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The Right to Privacy in a Digital World

written by SSI guest blogger, Matthew Prutting

For many companies, social media has gone from a promising form of advertising to a mandatory element of their business model. It is now easier than ever to reach consumers from all over the world, at any time of the day. However, certain methods and practices can be invasive. What was once a novel opportunity for additional low cost exposure has transformed into a saturation of media driven by anxiety. Businesses fear their competition may be better utilizing an instrument that they are not fully taking advantage of.

For consumers, this leads to an inevitable mix of social interaction and commerce. While social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were originally digital venues to socialize and network, they have now become seamlessly woven into the procedure and development of market research. In fact, many people are legitimately concerned about the accessibility of their private information. Some people fear for their right to privacy in the abstract sense, but also –in a more concrete application- the security of (anything they may deem) personal information.

These fears could be well founded in a time when Google stands to pay the biggest Federal Trade Commission fine ever given to a single company ($22.5 million) for privacy violations on Apple’s Safari Browser. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were also defendants in a separate case and stand to pay substantial cash damages for obtaining contact information through cell phone apps.

A recent social media marketing trend has been the use of smartphone apps. Marketing efforts that focused on applications that are both “mobile and social” resulted in smartphone users’ contact lists being accessed. This was done in an effort to find friends, associates, or family members that companies might want to target or connect with in online communities. These tactics of probing for extensive information to expand market presence risk violating consumer’s rights.

The underlying issue is one we definitely need to consider. That is, there are undoubtedly right and wrong ways to obtain information. Specifically: Where is the line drawn between free dissemination of information and protection of personal privacy? While certain information may prove to be valuable, companies need to be selective and deferential in the ways that they contact consumers and obtain data. It is imperative that companies reach out to individuals in ways that are not only effective and consequential, but also ensure a security that does not breach their rights, and operate within an ethical usage framework.

About today’s guest blogger: Matthew Prutting is spending time at SSI this summer learning about market research, before attending law school at the University of Connecticut this fall. 

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Categories: Market Research Social Media Trends

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