Marketing Encroaches on Customers’ Right to Privacy
As we will see later in our discussion of Marketing Research, gathering and analyzing information on the market in which marketers conduct business is a vital step in making good marketing decisions. Often the most valuable information deals with customers’ buying behavior and especially determining which factors influence how customers make purchase decisions.
But to some consumer advocates, digging deep into customer buying behavior crosses the line of what they consider to be private information. Of most concern to privacy advocates is marketers’ use of methods that track user activity. In particular, they are critical of the growing use of advanced technologies that allow marketers to gain access to customer shopping and information gathering habits. For instance, one type of tracking software, called adware, allows marketers to monitor the website browsing activity of unsuspecting users and use this information to deliver advertisements based on users’ internet habits. There are also rising concerns with potential tracking that may occur with other connected digital device such as television set-top boxes, voice-activated assistants (e.g., Amazon Echo), digital thermostats, and other so-called “smart devices.”
Privacy issues are not limited to concerns with online tracking; marketers also use techniques to track customers’ offline purchase activity. One example of offline tracking occurs when retail stores match sales transactions to individual shoppers. This is easy to do when customers use purchase cards (a.k.a. loyalty cards, discount cards, club cards, etc.) as part of the buying process.
Privacy issues are not restricted to marketing research. Other areas of marketing have also experienced problems. For instance, incidences, involving mishandled credit card payment information, where a breach in customer privacy has placed customers at risk.
The issue of customer privacy is likely to become one of the most contentious issues marketers face in the coming years. If this continues marketers may soon face greater legal limits on how they conduct business.