Is Tracking User Behavior Ethical?

Living in the age of information definitely has its perks for marketers. Digital media has become one of the most important distribution channels for marketers, and with it, digital media analytics offers even more opportunities for growth. Unfortunately for consumers, though, the practice of tracking user behavior online presents a lot of questions about ethics.

How Can Websites Track User Behavior?

Digital marketing analytics has allowed websites and data analytics programs to dramatically improve their understanding of what users do not only on their websites, but on the internet as a whole. It is possible to see how many people look at your website, where they were when they saw it, how long they spent, which pages they saw, and much more. This lets businesses see what works for their website, and what they could improve. However, it is also common to track consumer behavior across the internet as a whole by using cookie data, and this is often what raises the most concern.

What Concerns Does This Raise?

Although data tracking is extremely beneficial for marketers and helps them reach their goals much more easily, tracking user behavior online presents several potential ethical problems. Many people may feel uncomfortable knowing that businesses are able to see much of what they are searching online, and feel that this is an obvious violation of privacy. Plenty more worry about what might happen if data tracking programs sell their data to third parties, who might use that information for the wrong reasons. And even if businesses or data collection programs don’t sell their data to third parties, there is still the possibility that hackers might break through any safety measures and steal important consumer data. Although many businesses and websites have online privacy policies available to their users, these concerns are still present for many, and won’t likely go away any time soon.

My Opinion

In my opinion, even though digital marketing analytics can be extremely helpful to marketers, there are still plenty of valid concerns about online privacy. Because of this, being able to collect and see so much personal data about consumers isn’t very ethical. There are ways that businesses and websites can be upfront about their data tracking, such as having privacy policies and informing users that they use cookies, but this is still only one imperfect solution. And as a future marketer, knowing that data collectors don’t necessarily know your identity can help ease some fear, but there is still so much that they do know that can lead back to you. Perhaps in the future these concerns can be properly addressed, but for now, we are still a ways away from that.

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