With the power that comes from being the source of almost all of the public’s information on news, events, and other important topics, the media is held to high ethical standards. According to Cooper (2008), “There has been an overall increase in public concern about media practices viewed as ethically questionable” (p. 16). Information collected from the 2006 national poll found that 9% of people expressed invasion of privacy as a major concern within media ethics (Cooper, 2008, p. 18). With the ever-growing technology of today, invasion of privacy continues to be an issue. Now, advertisers are able to track what consumers are looking at online and what they may be interested in, by collecting data on what they are purchasing. This information is often collected through websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and more. This process is called data-mining, and the data that is collected is often used to create targeted ads, specific to each individual consumer, and may be used as pop-ups or sidebar advertisements on websites. Many people believe that this is an invasion of privacy and that advertisers should not be able to collect information and target advertisements this way.
Interviews conducted showed similar feelings towards ethical concerns involving data-mining. One participant stated, “I think it is kind of creepy, to be honest. I feel like what you’re interested in should be your own privacy. If they can look at that, than what else can they look at?” This response relates to Cooper’s (2008) study which found that the the second highest concern was privacy in the media and the internet. Another participant said, “I am not a fan of this; I don’t like it. I think it’s creepy when I go on Facebook and something I just looked up is on there. It’s a little too instant for my liking.” When asked what they thought should be done about these privacy concerns, interviewees shared similar views. “I feel like they should create policies, but I don’t think that they will. I think it logically makes more sense for the advertisers to do this, I just don’t like it,” said one participant. Another shared, “I think policies should be put in place, but I think that they [advertisers] will always find a way around it.”
Feelings about these concerns were not all negative, however. Three of the five people interviewed found data-mining to be helpful. One person stated, “no one wants to see things that they don’t want to see. They want to see things they are looking up and that they are interested in.” Another said, “I like that things pop up that I am interested in because then I can shop there and see if I like it. I like looking at companies that I didn’t know about, it expands my shopping.” One of the more interesting responses brought about a new topic to think about. He shared, “People don’t like the fact that they can do this in the first place. The fact that they are advertising something that peaks their interest doesn’t bother me, it bothers me that they have the technology that can do that in the first place.” This can represent the few that did not find this an issue in the Cooper (2008) article. This idea is also represented in an article in Forbes that stated, “Just because a company can collect all kinds of personal information on consumers, it doesn’t mean they should use it, says Bill Schmarzo, chief technology officer for EMC Global Services. Schmarzo says companies risk annoying consumers when using data collected about an individual to tailor messaging and offers” (Martin, 2014). Although data-mining can be helpful for consumers and advertisers, it can also be a breach in privacy, which is a major ethical concern not only in the media, but also in general life duties.
Cooper, T. (2008). Between the summits: What Americans think about media ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 23, 15-27.
Martin, E.R. (2014). The ethics of big data. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/emc/2014/03/27/the-ethics-of-big-data/