Study Shows that Majority of Individuals View Personalised Ads as Unethical

Computer and network security company RSA recently released the findings of its survey on data, privacy, and personalization, and found that the majority of people view personalized ads are morally wrong.

The study surveyed 6000 individuals from the USA and Europe and found that a whopping 83% of consumers believe that using their data to personalize ads is unethical. Furthermore, 76% of respondents said that using the data to create tailored newsfeeds is also unethical.

And perhaps the most damning statistic (for companies) is that more than half of people think that their data can’t be used ethically at all.

The breakdown shows that only 60% of adults in the US think that there are ethical ways for companies to use their personal information; that ratio drops to 48% in the U.K., 45% in France, and 43% in Germany.

The first question that comes to mind naturally is, if the crushing majority don’t agree with the way social media companies are handling their data, how come these companies account for billions of users?

Well, the simple answer is that they have no choice.

We recently reported on a story from Germany where the local antitrust regulatory body argued that Facebook’s dominance forces people into accepting its data collection terms. Andreas Mundt, the president of the Federal Cartel Office, as the regulator is called, said that: “In such a difficult situation the user’s choice cannot be referred to as voluntary consent.”

What to Do?

For one, the platforms could start using contextualized instead of personalized ads. As opposed to personalized ads that use data specific to each user to determine which ads to display, contextualized ads are based on the content in which they are embedded.

In fact, some industry experts argue that personalized ads aren’t more effective as contextualized ads as the common wisdom suggests.

The RSA on its part added that perhaps it would be better for companies to shift their focus on acknowledging and protecting consumers’ right to privacy. By so doing, the report says that the companies could “forge deeper connections with customers to grow their business while addressing very real concerns about data protection and privacy.”