Selling info for marketing purposes standard practice for businesses

Published by adviser, Author: James Meyer - Rocket Contributor, Date: March 30, 2012
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Internet users might find the scroll-box disclaimer annoying if it weren’t so easy to bypass. It’s easy enough to click the box marked “I agree,” but most users may not know what they are agreeing to.

Larry McIntyre, a 21-year-old senior communication major interning for the Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator, believes that users being too lazy to read the disclaimer is only part of the problem. The other problem, according to McIntyre, is that the disclaimers aren’t very readable.

“The disclaimer says, ‘You grant Facebook the irrevocable license with the right to sublicense in the United States and other territories any data that you input,’” McIntyre said. “What does that say? People aren’t reading them, and even if they are, they’re not understanding what it says. I don’t think privacy means not sharing anything. I think it means telling people what they’re signing up for in plain English.”

McIntyre stressed that it is important for people to understand that selling a customer’s information for marketing purposes is nothing new.

“Some people get really paranoid,” McIntyre said. “I mean, if you have a magazine subscription, they’ve been selling your address to third parties for years, so it happens in other areas. It just seems like people get way too lax or way too paranoid.”

Dr. John Golden, a professor of business, believes that both consumers and businesses have a responsibility to informed consent.

“I think it’s okay, so long as there is a disclosure up front – a full and fair disclosure that’s obvious,” Golden said. “And by obvious, I mean it has to be written at a level that maybe an eighth grader would be able to understand. If you do not want this information shared, there should be an ability to opt out. Obviously, there has to be some fence put around the information that’s being garnered. There shouldn’t be a blanket waiver around right to privacy.”

As for the scroll-box disclaimers, Golden said that not reading the policy is a poor defense legally.

“Courts have upheld those scroll box disclosures,” Golden said. “The fact that nobody reads them would probably not work as a defense. Is there an ethical duty on vendors to say, ‘now that we know practices of consumers, the disclosures should be made more obvious?’ I think there probably is, and I think Google has done that a bit.”

A possible solution to consumer protection and right to privacy touched upon in last week’s article is internet services becoming public utilities with government oversight, a solution that Dr. Golden does not agree with.

“When they start regulating commerce on the Internet, that’s probably going to run into problems,” he said. “One of the best things they can do is self police. In other words, if they are getting feedback about customer concerns about privacy, they would adjust. I would not like to see regulation, and I don’t think it would efficiently work. I think the market has an intelligent way of ferreting things out on a larger scale.”

Golden explained that the public, for the most part, ignored such concerns in the beginning of the internet’s development, because people were so overwhelmed with new and convenient technology.

“We’re thankful for the technology and we don’t have to pay for its development,” he said. “I think that’s part of it, too. In other words, from its inception, no one really cared when Microsoft was developing Windows and giving their software away for free. Now we sort of take that for granted. We were awed by the new technology so we gave them a longer leash.”

Jason Curry, an SRU alumnus who works in the field of search engine marketing, described one of Google’s policies as a catch 22.

“Google would implant a cookie into your browser to filter out bad websites,” Curry said. “Additionally, it was collecting information. So it was good and bad.”

Curry said that people need to have no more concern for the Internet than for credit card companies and insurance companies, who have been in the practice of selling far more personal information than that which is collected online.

“Business, in general, works on leads,” Curry said. “Leads can be gathered in a number of ways. In all reality, there’s so much out there already. All the Internet does is allow businesses to target it better.”

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