Keeping data for advertising purposes in the internet era is an incredibly complex issue – there’s so much data that you collect on a person. We’ve gone very quickly (within the career of several marketing people that I work with) from having at most a person’s address and phone number, plus perhaps a few stated preferences, to knowing literally everything about them – from browsing habits to politics, and we have so much data on so many people that we can extrapolate on how these things affect or line up with consumer habits.
I’ve been thinking about this after reading this article, on Disney being sued over alleged data gathering and selling from apps and games designed for children.
Obviously, if Disney have been doing that, it is illegal and they’ll be found out (though whether a company like Disney might decide to take a court course hit in exchange for valuable data is an entirely different question.) But Disney denies the charges and it may be that they haven’t done anything wrong, and that deep within their app terms of service, parents have been consenting that Disney storing data on their children.
At this point, it becomes not a legal issue but a moral one for marketers. The social and semi-psychological profiling of customers is a powerful tool, and one that improves life for the customer too if they are only being advertised things that they actually want. However, it can lead to manipulative messaging. It’s perhaps one thing to do that with adults, but quite another with children.
Back when I worked in print distribution, I recall having conservations about the ethics of what we referred to as ‘pushchair height print’ – basically bright leaflets and posters placed in public display racks precisely where eagle-eyed, grabby-handed kids could get their hands on them. Totally legal but a moral issue, and data is the same, though with the amount that can be gathered, potentially a much more serious issue.