Ethical Use of Social Media: Users’ Anonymity and the Inviolability of Their Personal Data

Gathering information about social media users, their preferences, demographic characteristics, and other features for advertising or maintaining competition is a natural phenomenon in today’s marketing environment. The more successful a website integrates targeted promotional materials, the more profits owners can generate. Regarding the ethics of this practice, the key issues usually concern users’ anonymity and the inviolability of their data, which, according to many, are at risk of leakage and transfer to third parties. In addition, some users consider this approach not only unethical but also illegal due to the right to privacy. However, when considering this topic in the context of the admissibility of collecting user background by advertising companies, one should take into account the existing restrictions in this sphere. According to Michaelidou and Micevski (2019), analyzing user data is not a prohibited practice and does not contradict existing laws. Concerning the privacy aspect, there are special protective protocols, for instance, two-factor authentication, which allow preventing user data from hacking. Therefore, collecting general information about a specific audience does not violate either legal or ethical standards.

When companies utilize analytical tools, they do this with the permission of users themselves. Registration in any social media implies a two-way interaction, and the terms of user agreements are offered for review from the beginning of using a specific resource. This means that everyone has an opportunity to determine what information digital platforms can transfer to third parties and why. This knowledge is an objective reason to accept or refuse the services of a particular site. Therefore, from an ethical standpoint, collecting general user information by companies to maintain a competitive position and post relevant advertising materials is not a violation due to people’s initial awareness of such practices.

Reference

Michaelidou, N., & Micevski, M. (2019). Consumers’ ethical perceptions of social media analytics practices: Risks, benefits and potential outcomes. Journal of Business Research, 104, 576-586.

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