More data, more problems? The ethics of persuasion and control

As I’ve progressed through school, I’ve become increasingly concerned with the effects of technology, and the ethics involved in its use.

As marketers, we have more data at our fingertips than ever before. We can highly target specific individuals, and have the technology with machine learning to make strong predictions about people’s inner selves and what will drive consumer behaviour.

But should we?

And do we have an ethical responsibility when it comes to how we target consumers?

This podcast by Sam Harris, with guest Zeynep Tufekci, on persuasion and control really solidified my feelings about how we currently collect and use data to influence people.

Intention Matters

I do not think persuasion is inherently bad. I believe we have the power to use persuasion for good, and an ethical duty to explore our methods and intentions when we attempt to direct behaviour.

I’m not comfortable with the idea of targeting people’s deepest vulnerabilities. I believe there’s a better way.

Thankfully, I think most of my peers agree. Marketing doesn’t have to be unethical. We can be the change we want to see.

Since beginning to explore this topic, I’ve been thinking about how little control we have over our own data collected by others. I’m increasingly in favour of consumers having access to – and being able to control what data is and isn’t available to brands.

I have no illusions of privacy, and I can’t say this has swayed me to change my online habits much. What I can say, is that it’s inspired me to keep digging into the ethics of digital, and to support companies that follow suit.

So what do you think?

Is there a difference between persuasion and control? And how do you feel about the data collected on you being used?