Internet privacy is the state of being online, free from user attention and ensuring security level of personal data that is published via the Internet.

It is a broad term that refers to a variety of factors that includes communication techniques, user preferences, private data and online behavior. Internet privacy and anonymity are becoming paramount to users, especially as e-commerce continues to gain traction.

Online privacy is one of my key areas of interest as a student of business studies in marketing. I have personally observed the increasing trend of online shopping in India for the last 5 years.

India’s e-commerce market was worth about $3.8 billion in 2009 and it grew up to $12.6 billion in 2013. In 2013, the e-retail market was worth US$ 2.3 billion. About 70% of India’s e-commerce market is travel related. India has close to 10 million online shoppers and is growing at an estimated 30%. Electronics and apparel are the biggest categories in terms of sales. Key drivers of the Indian e-commerce industry are:

  • Increasing broadband Internet (growing at 20% month over month) and 3G penetrations
  • Rising standards of living with high disposable incomes
  • Availability of much wider product range online
  • Busy lifestyles, urban traffic congestion and lack of time for offline shopping
  • Lower prices driven by lesser intermediation and reduced inventory and real estate costs
  • Introduction and increase usage of online classified sites, with more consumers buying and selling second-hand goods

All these factors prove to be a clear opportunity for the online shops to draw more user attention to them, through personalized marketing online.Internet privacy is hence becoming a source of major concern to the users at one end, and is proving to be an opportunity for the marketers, on the other.

Is this ethical from the standpoint of view of users and marketers? Moreover, is the data collected really a concern for privacy?

With the invention of social media, the marketer no longer has to focus solely on the basic demographics and psychographics available from television and magazines. Now they can see what consumers like to hear from advertisers.

The general concept of being ethical while marking on social network sites, is to be honest with the intentions of the campaign, avoiding false advertising, being aware of user privacy conditions, respecting the dignity of persons in the shared online community, and claiming responsibility of any mistakes or mishaps that are results of the marketing campaign.

Most social network marketers use websites like Facebook and MySpace to try to drive traffic to another website. While it is ethical to use social networking websites to spread a message to people who are genuinely interested, many people game the system with auto-friend adding programs and spam messages and bulletins, which is clearly a privacy issue.

However, social networking websites are becoming wise to these practices and are effectively weeding out and banning offenders. Social media platforms have now become extremely aware of their users and are collecting information about their viewers to connect with them in various ways. Many social media platforms like Facebook is quietly working on a new advertising system that would let marketers target users with ads based on the massive amounts of information that people reveal on the site about themselves.

This may be an unethical or ethical feature to some individuals. Some people may react negatively because they believe it is an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, some individuals may enjoy this feature as their social network recognizes their interests and sends them particular advertisements pertaining to those interests.

I think that it is important for managers to invest in social media to foster relationships and interact with customers.This is an ethical way for managers to send messages about their advertisements and products to their consumers. The right to user privacy can be perceived as a positive right when we think about it as the right to control user information. We can consider rights such as the ability to decide which companies have our contact information, the ability to choose which personal information to publicize, and the ability to hold private conversations over the Internet, as falling under the realm of digital privacy.

However, a more common and more accurate way to define privacy is as a negative right. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary calls it “freedom from unauthorized intrusion.” It is “freedom from” rather than “freedom to” that implies a negative right.

We can also think of privacy as the ability to give the user contact information or behavior to one company, without allowing that company to sell it to others; the ability to put information on the internet without it becoming publicly available; or the ability to have a conversation online without a third-party accessing it. In short, users should have the freedom to use the Internet, without the fear that someone is watching.They need to have the same sense of security online, as they do in their houses, where no one can lawfully intrude without their knowledge and permission.

Hence, I personally feel that the future marketers have to be very careful and considerate in using the technology available for innovative marketing, by being considerate to the privacy of their customers.

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K Rahul Girish – Individual Assignment –  New Media @ VIVES University College, Kortrijk

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