Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The War on Privacy!

With the explosion of social media activity, the rise of on line retailing, and real time bidding to reach the ever-increasing online audience, the spotlight is well and truly focussed on privacy. More than ever, this is a hot topic in the daily media and in the legislators’ agenda. This is a fertile field for shock headlines and fierce political debate, with prominent commercial players such as Facebook and Google often in the firing line for alleged transgressions of the right to privacy. This is now a worldwide, borderless phenomenon.

Some privacy researchers are suggesting that privacy comes at a price, turning on the trade off between the consumer’s desire to share personal details in exchange for the benefits and convenience of the new styles of communication and consumption. In the backwash, the line between professional marketing research and the unqualified exploitation of “big data” laden with consumers’ details is becoming increasingly blurred.

No longer is the collection, processing, analysis and reporting of data the exclusive domain of the market and social researcher. Indeed, the advent of freely accessible on-line surveys, now being aggressively marketed well beyond the sphere of the professional market and social research community takes the established forms of our research into a new realm. In this context, users’ adherence to quality standards and best practice is not necessarily the case. This poses a dilemma for the professional market and social research community by raising the possibility that its hard won image for the protection of respondents’ privacy, an integral feature of quality assured research, is under threat.

To underline the difference between a professional versus an unregulated approach, most market and social research organisations in Australia now choose to operate within the regulatory framework of the Market and Social Research Privacy Principles and Code under the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988. The Australian Privacy Commissioner is the adjudicator of this code. This sends the strongest possible signal to research respondents about the industry’s intent to protect their privacy. Have you felt your privacy has been violated through the use of social media, or as a result of a marketing activity?

Terry Beed
Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Sydney Business School

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