Ethics, ownership and confidentiality of data: the hidden social contract


Marketers can own data about other people and use it for advertising purposes, but there are limits to what and how.

There are all these “you own your information” movements going out there, and that’s a very fair concept, but it’s wrong. You don’t actually have your own data. However, this is not exhaustive; you have rights to certain data, but this does not override the rights of others.

Consumer data is highly sought after by businesses and many companies are willing to spend a pretty penny on this consumer information. In fact, more data for marketers means better information to target users with their advertising. As a result, digital ad spending in the United States reached $ 190.43 billion in 2021, a 14.3% jump from the previous year, when spending only reached 165.81. billions of dollars. By 2022, digital ad spend in the United States is expected to grow another 19.7% and surpass the $ 200 billion mark for the very first time. (1) And those ad dollars seem to be paying off: 56% of global consumers are more influenced by images. on social media when shopping post-pandemic. (2) But there is only one problem: so many consumers think they have their own personal data, and concerns about the violation of human rights. privacy are increasing.

“There’s all these ‘you own your information’ movements going out there, and that’s a very fair concept, but it’s wrong. You don’t actually have your own data. However, this is not exhaustive; you have rights to certain data, but this does not take precedence over the rights of others ”, states Sky Cassidy, CEO of Mountaintop Data.

Marketers can own data about other people and use it for advertising purposes, but there are limits to what and how. Cassidy explains that to successfully compete in today’s market, it is wise to only collect and use the necessary information you need to provide the best service to the consumer. A recent survey of North American consumers McKinsey found that about half of consumers surveyed said they were more likely to trust a company that only asks for information that is relevant to the products they sell, or that limits the amount of personal information (3) One reason to limit the amount of information collected from customers is to avoid invading their privacy, Cassidy gives a fairly well-known example of the Target retail store. In 2012, The New York Times spoke to Target statistician Andrew Pole about how he was using the company’s computers to analyze data that assigned a “pregnancy prediction” score estimating at what stage the client was in her pregnancy based on recent shopping habits. In the article, an anecdotal story was shared to show how the targeting got too precise at one point: the store allegedly sent coupons for baby clothes to a pregnant teenager, and that’s how her dad said. learned of her pregnancy. (4)

Cassidy addresses the fact that some companies are allowed to have information, but laws prohibit them from sharing it. For example, what you share with your doctor or therapist must be kept confidential under HIPPA laws. Your doctor can’t tell anyone you have diabetes with, but if you subscribe to a diabetic magazine, marketers can use that information to target you in their ads. But when it comes to data ethics, the biggest breach of all is when someone takes your personal data and uses it for their own financial gain.

Many consumers owe their confusion over data ownership to different state and national laws, such as HIPPA. The United States does not have a single data security and privacy law covering all of its different states, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union (EU). This simplifies privacy laws for companies operating there, as they have a definition of personal data and a set of rules regarding privacy, how to respond to data breaches, etc. (4)

However, the United States could move towards a national law similar to the GDPR. Cassidy says he doesn’t like GDPR as a law in particular because it removes the ability for marketers to have an opt-out list, so the default setting for everyone is that no one may have or use their information. It agrees with California law which incorporates similar concepts, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). “People are not allowed to tell someone to forget about you. It’s anti-capitalist and it makes things incredibly difficult.

The CCPA, however, has more of a balance according to Cassidy. It gives people the choice to opt out of soliciting certain products or services, but it is not the “default” setting. They’ll be on a marketer’s list, but they can easily opt out. Besides California, Virginia and Colorado are the only other states in the United States that currently have comprehensive data privacy laws. Although the laws vary slightly between the three states, the basic idea is that companies should inform consumers that they are selling their data. Consumers can control whether their personal data should be deleted or moved. Consumers can decide whether or not they agree with this, and they also have the power to access, delete, correct or move their data. There are laws in other states that cover individual aspects of data privacy, such as the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), but the risk that too many state laws could lead to harm. confusion for businesses and consumers is worrying (5).

This conundrum raises the question of how companies can ensure that the data they buy is legal and used ethically. Cassidy advises companies to talk to multiple data providers and scrutinize them thoroughly by asking questions that will provide insight into their legitimacy. “The easiest way to do this is to ask [the data provider] if their emails are enabled. If they say yes, run! Cassidy warns, explaining that “a lot of businesses want to say their emails are on because they know people want to hear it.” Additionally, Cassidy recommends that companies be prepared to interview potential data providers by making a list of revealing questions (such as requesting a sample, which unsavory companies will object to doing, or they will send documents you don’t. have not asked). Using a list of questions such as Ten Questions to Ask a List Provider will effectively control these troublemakers.

“When people give their information to a particular company for a specific purpose, it should only be used for that purpose. If a company doesn’t stick to that, they are violating their agreement with the person who gave them the information, ”says Cassidy.

About MountainTop data

MountainTop Data, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, has been providing data services for B2B marketing for nearly two decades. With an unwavering commitment to quality, they were the first company to ensure the accuracy of their licensed data and business emails. They provide marketing lists, data cleansing, data addition and data maintenance services. Their data services have been used by some of the world’s biggest brands in a multitude of diverse industries, from multinational telecommunications companies to office technology, public relations companies and more. For more information visit:

1. MacRae, Duncan. “Digital ad spending in the United States will surpass the $ 200 billion mark by 2022.” Marketing Tech, September 13, 2021.

2. Hillier, Lizzy. “Summary of Statistics: The Impact of COVID-19 on Electronic Commerce. »Econsultancy, October 22, 2021.

3. Anant, Venky. Donchak, Lisa. Kaplan, Jacques. Soller, Henning. “The timeliness of consumer data and the imperative of confidentiality”. McKinsey & Company, April 27, 2020.

4. Hill, Kashmir. “How Target found out that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father.” Forbes, February 16, 2012. 169bbe436668

5. Faitelson, Yaki. “Why US GDPR-Style Privacy Laws Are Good for Business.” Forbes, December 19, 2019.

6. Klosowski, Thorin. “The State of Consumer Data Protection Laws in the United States (and Why It Matters)”. New York Times, September 6, 2021.


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