Dealing Out Data: Is It Moral?

Recently, everyone seems to be worried about their online privacy. Rightfully so, with data breaches like the DoorDash breach, in which cyber criminals compromised user’s names, email addresses, and phone numbers, as well as the last four digits of debit and credit cards. But, cyber criminals aren’t the only ones who are hunting for your data. Companies can also secretly track your data to try and increase sales.

I was searching for a Minecraft account code for my little brother on Amazon just before Christmas, and I haven’t stopped getting ads for Minecraft related products since. This is because many websites track information to show you targeted ads. Business News Daily said that customer data is collected in three ways: asking the customer, tracking the customer, and collecting data from other companies. A prime example of a company that does this is Facebook. According to The New York Times, even though it wasn’t intended, ignorance led to companies that were partnered with Facebook having access to the Facebook data of 87 million people.

These targeted ads that many companies are sponsoring use your personal data, search history, or cookies, which are pieces of information collected from websites you browse, to show you ads. These ads can be displayed anywhere from the websites you visit to your Instagram feed. Tech Republic states that companies can predict highly sensitive attributes like sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religous and political views, from the data collected by companies. I don’t know about you, but if I had to have ads, I wouldn’t want an algarithim deciding what I get to see because then I am not exposed to new things.

If you can believe it, there are a few benefits to targeted advertising. With targeted advertising, you’ll only see ads for products that you are, or at least were, interested in buying. according to The New York Times, Sarah Hofstetter said, “would you rather have ads that are at least trying to be of interest of you, or ads that are spray and pray?” With targeted ads, some of the products you see will be ones that you actually want to buy. This would seem helpful at first, but some incorrect assumption could lead to ads that are just as ineffective as the “spray and pray” ads.

So, here’s the question: Are companies in the right? Can they track your data to show you products that you would prefer? The answer for me is going to have to be no. Although data tracking does help me find products I was trying to buy, the ads stick around for too long. I don’t really need to find the necklace I was trying to find 4 months ago, I already bought it for my mom for Christmas in November.

So, while targeted ads can be more useful than regular ads, their relentless persecution makes them unbearable.