Clearly from this case and others there is a critical need for the development of safeguards on consumer data captured over the Internet, both of the opt-in (where the customer approves the data being captured) and the non-opt-in variety.
An Explicit Requirement for Transparency and Ethical Use of Data
Consumers have become increasingly concerned that their data, however acquired, will eventually be sold without their knowledge, eventually leading to the potential for identity theft at the worst and continual junk e-mail and bulk mail at the least. Due to the pervasive lack of trust regarding the use of their data, consumers are increasingly calling for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that will protect their rights and data despite any pre-existing claims made by the companies who captured it through benign surveillance techniques (Pirsch, Gupta, Grau. pp. 126, 127).
Facebook, one of the emerging companies that is defining social networking, has gone through its own ethical crisis already on the issue of transforming how customer data is acquired and fueling the debate of where benign surveillance ends and spying on customers begins (Tsai, p. 17). The Beacon fiasco sends a cautionary message to those companies who have data acquired through benign surveillance. Facebooks' decision to launch their Beacon initiative that tracked all activity of their users including sites they visited off of Facebook generated a user- and industry-led backlash resulting in a major fiasco for the company in late 2007 and early 2008. Not informing their customers that the data was being tracked and then presented to their friends in the context of guided selling sessions online not only violated the privacy of each user, they also ended up creating situations online between friends that strained relationships. One example of a man purchasing an engagement ring for his fiancee online to surprise her during the holidays of 2007 turned into a disaster as she was shown an advertisement of rings when she accessed her fiancees' page. The result was a spoiled wedding proposal. There were many more examples of how Facebook's complete lack of ethical forethought and execution caused pain for thousands of its users. Ethically, Facebook had the responsibility to inform all their subscribers, several times over to make sure they saw it, that a Beacon was being introduced and it would track their movements both on and off Facebook. Giving them the opportunity to opt-in or opt out would have also been the ethically correct decision to make. Instead, Facebook forged ahead and kept the program stealth until discovered by bloggers Charlene Li (Bernoff & Li, et.al) of Forrester. The beacon fiasco shows how delicate trust that is implicit in the use of data acquired through benign surveillance can quickly be violated. Social networking is the new means by which critical transparency is formed between companies collecting data and those that the data represents. Facebook considered one of the catalysts of social networking, ironically finds its future hanging in the balance of an online culture it helped create.
Benign Surveillance and Consumers Rights: Interpretations of the 4th Amendment
The U.S. has become a litigious society with the number of lawsuits over the use of data escalating rapidly. Often the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is used as a means of setting precedence in that nation in addition to defining ethical practices of using data obtained through benign surveillance in other nations where American-based companies operate. While the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the government the right to search for evidence, there is no legal precedence for marketers capturing data using any means including through benign surveillance, specifically those items regarding the tracking of online search behavior. Online marketers install cookies, or small text files that record what websites are visited by PC users and what they click on. The ability of online marketers to interpret then build patterns of online advertisements that pop up on users' screens has reached such proportions that one of the most popular downloads on the entire Internet is a Pop-Ad Blocker that roots out and destroys the programs that read cookies and send information back to advertisers. Lavasoft (www.lavasoft.de) hassince become one of the most popular downloads for other privacy software applications for Internet users. The use of these Pop-Up Blockers have been ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Count, preserving the right to privacy of citizens from being monitored through benign surveillance when they don't trust the organization during the monitoring. The bottom line of all this is that the 4th Amendment will be strengthened over time to ward off security threats including terrorism, yet the "snooping" of marketers to get online surfing information will become even more rigorously punished.
Opt-Out Options Needed from Data Collected Through Benign Surveillance
The backlash and lack of trust in capturing data through benign surveillance all types is leading to a series of strategies on the part of consumers globally to protect their identities and also create a greater level of security for themselves online as well. Table 1, Data Elements Captured Through Benign Surveillance provides a comprehensive overview of sixteen different areas of personal data captured. The interpolation of specific fields and values, if not immediately provided by the online consumer or customer can often be interpolated and filled in by using other values in the data warehouses and data marts that also have powerful data analytics and statistical analysis applications associated with them.
Table 1: Data Elements Captured Through Benign Surveillance
Type of Personal Data
Description of the Data Elements
Online purchases of products and services through personalized Web sites based on user profiles; software providers: Broadvision, Personify, NetPerceptions. This data is also for sales from InfoUSA.
Expertise-dependent personalization; product and technical descriptions: Sales Assistant
User Skills and Capabilities
Help Systems that capitalize on the need for tracking user click streams including the problems that are being solved, specifically focusing on severity and type of problems.
User Interests and Preferences
Recommender systems that capture and store user preferences including car up-sell and cross-sell systems; domain of telephony devices
User Goals and Plans
Personalized support for users with targeted browsing behavior, plan recognition. This area also includes work completed by Google on their Latent Semantic Indexing Model.
Adaptation based on link-selection including image selection and personalization including the development of on-site personas and the development of programs to deliver customized content.
Temporal Viewing Behavior
Adaptation based on viewing time including streaming objects; temporal navigation behavior
Adaptation based on object ratings; product suggestions including the customization of product and web page content specifically for the development of a highly differentiated and unique user experience.
Purchases and Purchase-related actions
Suggestions of similar goods after product selection: Amazon.com; other purchase-related actions: registering, transferring products into virtual shopping cart, quizzes
Other (dis-) confirmatory actions
Adaptation based on other user actions, e.g. saving, printing documents, bookmarking a Web page and the tracking of this content is the main area of focus in this area of study.
Adaptation based on usage frequency; specific research is being completed on the icon toolbar and analysis of web page visits.
Interface agents; routing mails and the analysis of meeting requests send through e-mail and across networks are also susceptible to being analyzed and captured without the sender or receivers' knowledge.
Recommendations based on frequently used action sequences, e.g. past actions, action sequences of other users captured and analyzed in the context of each user account.
Adaptation based on users' bandwidth, processor speed, display devices (e.g. resolution), input devices; all configuration data is captured and evaluated as part of a users' profile.
Adaptation based on users' current location (e.g. country code), characteristics of usage locale; capture of local-specific variables to track and evaluate the use of a given sites' functionality and features, and the creation of consumer profiles specifically for this purpose.
There are an abundance of data types, elements and forms that can be captured benign surveillance data collection strategies and techniques, the future of data collections strategies will be increasingly defined by opt-out requirements on the part of consumers. Consumers will over time demand opt-out for every specific data attribute as breaches defined and voluntary mass surveillance strategies that need customer adoption to be ethical (as was the case with Facebook's Beacon project) require this option for consumers. In conclusion, the ethics of data acquire through benign surveillance is going to go through a revolutionary change, partially driven by the impact of social networking demanding higher levels of transparency, and also for greater controls over the data when used in development projects. From an application and service development standpoint, the need is even greater for compliance to ethical standards and processes to protect the confidentiality of the…