Handbook on Ethics and Marketing
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Handbook on Ethics and Marketing

Edited by Alexander Nill

Exploring both the theoretical and the applied aspects of the role ethics plays in marketing, this Handbook analyzes key issues in order to advance our understanding and provide an overview of the state of the art in this vital field.
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Chapter 18: New telecommunication technologies, big data and online behavioral advertising: do we need an ethical analysis?

Alexander Nill, Robert J. Aalberts, Herman Li and John Schibrowsky


The recent advances in the use and potential abuse of ‘big data’ is one of the most pressing issues facing both marketers and public policy decision makers (Laczniak and Murphy, Chapter 1 in this volume). Laczniak and Murphy (Chapter 1) even predict that ‘consumer and citizen privacy will be to the twenty-first century what women’s rights and civil rights were to the twentieth century.’ Following their call we discuss the need for more ethics-based research in this area. Specifically we analyse Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA), a fast growing technique that enables advertisers to develop a behavioral profile of consumers based on consumers’ online and increasingly – via mobile devices – offline behavior. These individualized consumer data allow advertisers to deliver individually relevant messages, which potentially increase the effectiveness of advertisements and in turn advertising revenues. At the same time consumer profiles have become an increasingly tradable good. While OBA potentially provides advantages to online consumers such as ‘free’ access to online sites – the advertising revenues pay for keeping the sites free of charge – the practice has the technological potential to violate consumers’ privacy to a hitherto unmatched extent. OBA is poorly understood by most consumers, often non-transparent and sometimes outright deceptive. Since the practice is relatively new, laws and regulations are still evolving.

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