Ethical Marketing in the age of Big Data

When the application of Big Data has become a key component in business models, what are the implications of collecting and using online behaviour advertising and cloud computing in marketing field? Especially, what is marketer ethics in collecting data? 

Privacy and security concerns in the age of Big Data

Big Data is a hyper-personalized micro-segment consumer tool that enables the marketer to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. In the marketing context, Big Data plays a vital role in analyzing customers insight, cutting down marketing cost, reducing the time-consuming and helping customers make the right decision and more reasonable. Besides, by automatically harvesting customer data, which includes personal information such as address, phone number or health record, privacy and security in terms of big data is an important issue.

The latest Facebook scandal alerted the privacy and security concern in the age of Big Data. By harvesting users’ data such as their post interaction, pages they like or even scanning their messenger inbox,… Facebook create a Big Data of users’ behaviours, interest and voting orientation. Those data are delivered to entrepreneurs for the purpose of marketing. The Facebook’s privacy issue involved the collection of personally identifiable information of up to 87 million users. Even worse, the data was allegedly used to attempt to influence voters’ opinions on behalf of the politician who hired them.

Code of ethics in collecting data

In 2012, by harvesting and analyzing health record data of an America 15-year-old pregnant girl, the Target’s marketers reached the limitation of marketer’s ethics in collecting information. The company did breach Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the USA which protects customers’ sensitive data. FTC urges companies to provide “reasonable security for any data they collect for behavioural advertising and to retain data only as long as it is needed to fulfil a legitimate business or law enforcement need”. (FTC, 2009)

Applying Target case in Australia, Target may breach ethics of marketing and advertising field. Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) which refers to “Direct marketing involves the use and disclosure of personal information to communicate directly with an individual to promote goods and services. A direct marketer may communicate with an individual through a variety of channels, including telephone, SMS, mail, email and online advertising”. (APPs, 2014)

According to The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), in the field of digital marketing, “when collecting or using personal data from individuals, care should be taken to respect and protect their privacy by complying with relevant legislation and the marketer’s own privacy policy” (AANA, Marketing in the digital space). (AANA, 2018)

The implications for the marketers

First of all, “the Marketer should develop a strategy for what data will be useful and how to use it” (Ackerman C, 2017). The use of Big Data requires many conservations within your organization to develop a strategy for what and how to utilize the harvested data. Failure to develop a strategy is not only fall fouls of the ethics of security and privacy but also the risk of time-consuming and money-wasting.

Secondly, the Marketer should “consider the ethical implication and responsibilities of utilizing some of this information and the reaction that may come from customers who were unaware this data has been shored” (Ackerman C, 2017).

Last but not least, the entrepreneur should determine what types of information align clearly with your company’s culture, values, and mission. “Only then should you look for and access third-party data that will help you drive powerful customer engagement and achieve other success metrics.” (Ackerman C, 2017)

In conclusion, although Big Data automatically harvest private data, the marketer is the one who chooses whether using those data or not. Ethical implications help the marketers to protect not only their reputations but also their company’s integrity and firm trust from customers.


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Australian Association of National Advertiser, ‘Marketing in the digital space – Data protection and privacy‘, 2014, Australia

Australia Privacy Principle, ‘APP7 – Direct marketing’, February 2014, Australia

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Carole C., 2018, ‘Cambridge Analytica’s ruthless bid to sway the vote in Nigeria’, The Guardian, 22 March 2018, viewed 10 May 2018, <;

Confessore N., 2018, ‘Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout so far’, The New York Times, 4 April 2018, viewed 10 May 2018, <;

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