Balancing Online Profiling and New Data Privacy Concerns

Balancing Online Profiling and New Data Privacy Concerns

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a product that you recently purchased using your computer when browsing the internet on your smartphone? These advertisements are sent in accordance with online profiling, which refers to the practice of recording the detailed online interactions or behaviors of a particular consumer. Due to the huge role that advertising plays in generating revenue for businesses across a wide range of industries, online profiling is currently one of the primary ways by which advertisers create and implement advertising campaigns for individuals around the world. The practice of online profiling is facilitated in large part by the inherent nature of the internet itself.

To illustrate this point further, any person that has created a social media account within the last decade will have essentially created a digital footprint that can be used to track their interests, hobbies, and general habits, among other things. Furthermore, these social media posts can often still be accessed even after a user has deleted their account, as anything that a person posts online can never be truly removed from the realm of the world wide web. When considering that social media platforms are just one of the numerous ways in which consumers can go about utilizing online services, advertisers have access to a large trove of personal information concerning consumers that can be used to create online profiles for said consumers.

Gathering insights

While the collection of the personal information that consumers share via the internet occurs in a variety of ways, where online profiling differs from other forms of data collection or processing is that advertisers use this information to gather insights about a particular consumer, and then identify, segment, and define a particular demographic or audience in conjunction with targeted advertising efforts. This being said, online profiling is predicated on the idea that gaining a greater level of understanding regarding a consumer’s specific interests will enable marketers to advertise products to consumers in a more effective and efficient manner. As advertising and marketing, in general, have moved deeper into the digital landscape in the past 2 decades, these businesses have become increasingly dependent on personalization to drive consumer insights.

This is in contrast to the ways in which advertising and marketing have functioned in the past, when providing each individual consumer within a city or region of a particular country with personalized ads was virtually impossible, as the technological solutions that have enabled businesses to send consumers these communications were very limited when compared to the massive social media platforms and online websites that dominate the space today. am of this, tracking a consumer’s behavior over time was even more difficult, and many marketers and advertisers instead focused on creating more broad campaigns that would appeal to larger audiences as opposed to segmented populations within a given geographic area.

Privacy concerns

With all this being said, despite the benefits that the practice of online profiling affords to advertisers and business owners alike, the means by which these organizations obtain information from consumers has led to privacy and data protection issues on a multitude of different levels. For instance, the EU’s landmark data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), mandates that businesses and organizations that operate within EU nation states adhere to certain requirements when it comes to the online profiling of data subjects within Europe. For example, the GDPR gives data subjects the right to object to and halt the automatic processing of personal data in relation to personal profiling, as well as the right to request a copy of any data that may be contained within their online profile.

Nevertheless, many countries outside of the scope of the EU have yet to pass privacy legislation such as the GDPR, and as such, consumers in these respective nations have few ways to protect their personal data with respect to online profiling. In addition to this, the automated nature of online profiling also means that many consumers may not be aware that the process is taking place at all. For instance, many consumers do not know that online cookies can also be used to track their habits and preferences, as many websites use cookies to provide users with an enhanced browsing experience. As such, these consumers do not have the means to govern the manner in which their personal data is collected and processed, nor the ways in which this information is used to provide them with advertisements.

While businesses were still making efforts to track the behavior of their customers before the rise of the digital era, these practices have reached new levels in recent years. In spite of the fact that businesses obviously want to advertise their products and services to as many interested people as possible, consumers also have a right to protect their personal data and privacy. To this point, striking this delicate balance is becoming increasingly difficult, as technological advancement continues to outpace privacy protection legislation, with consumers bearing the brunt of the burden, while businesses rake in massive profits on the basis of the personal data of said consumers.

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