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.


Ackerman C, 2017, ‘The implication of Big Data Marketing Bigger than you think’,  West Monroe, 24 July 2017, viewed 25 April 2018, <;

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

Bush V, Venable B and Bush A, 2000, ‘Ethics and Marketing on the Internet: Practitioners’ Perception of Societal, Industry and Company Concerns, Journal of Business Ethics’, p. 237-248, Netherland

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, <;

Duhigg C., 2012, ‘How companies learn your secrets’, The New York Times, 16 February 2012, viewed 25 April 2018, <;

Federal Trade Commission, ‘FTC Staff Revises Online Behavioral Advertising Principle’,  Federal Trade Commission, 12 February 2009, USA, <;

Jain P., Gyanchandani M. & Khare Nilay, ‘Big data privacy: a technological perspective and review’, 26 November 2016, Computer science department, MANIT, Bhopal, India

Lubin G, 2012, ‘The incredible story of how Target exposed a teen girl’s pregnancy’, Business Insider, 17 February 2012, viewed 25 April 2018, <;

Nunan D & Di Domenico M., 2015, ‘Market research & Ethics of Big data’, p9-12, UK


Social media or place for demostrating democracy

Social media is the place for entertaining, making new friends or even promoting products… But to some extents, when you connect the dots and start operating it, you will find above all, social media is the modern “public sphere”. In this writing, I would like to discuss especially Facebook network.

What is “public sphere”?

Basically, “public sphere” is the place where people can come and freely discuss and identify societal problems. Furthermore, “the public sphere as a virtual or imaginary community which does not necessarily exist in any identifiable space” –  German philosopher Jürgen Habermas defined. According to that concept, Facebook can be admitted as a public sphere.

How does Facebook operate as a public sphere?

As the place includes all the active users to express their ideas and beliefs, Facebook keeps innovating its operation in order to fulfil public’s demand for discussing. Facebook now timely updating news on the diversity of the field such as entertainment, social news or even political events… Beside utilizing user’s expression by creating groups, hashtags or EdgeRank, Facebook is social media which pioneered in joining in the political action. For example, in the parliamentary election in May 2010, Facebook prompted its users to vote online by having applied the application that can help people vote and participate in debates, votes and petitions.

Being opposed to Habermas’s public sphere concept which excludes a wide range of people, Facebook is open for everyone. Of course, that leads to many consequences. On the contrary of the fact that users must deal with many negative and distort ideologies, Facebook is more democratic and open to discuss issues. Facebook implements the discussing activity by applying the model of disagreement which basically allows people to discuss more and more by exposing users to the perspective that they don’t agree with. Besides, users can actively create their own space such as fanpages or groups to discuss issues with individuals who have the same interest.

Facebook’s roles in creating a “public sphere”

In my point of view, since the effort to make discussions, Facebook in particular and common media in general, are striving to serve public’s interest and ensure both of democracy the “dominant ideology”. It plays a vital role as a place for “encoding and decoding” activities and it is designed to facilitate the sharing both of individual and group of individual.

To sum up, social media holds the main position as public sphere of discourse. The media plays a role as a provider of a medium discuss issues, and the most important: “Media is the sword arm of democracy” (


A view of media ownership as an apprentice communicator

There are many different points of view about “Media ownership”, most of them are surrounded by the democratic problem and diversity of source of information. And the question arises “Is the media ownership that bad?”.  

What is media ownership? 

Media ownership is when a few media firms dominate the media market and it comes from the result of merging media company.

Why does media ownership matter? 


Limitation in the number of media ownership helps us explain the lack of diversity in information and that’s the reason why the readers may not have a fulfilled knowledge to evaluate an issue. Furthermore, the media integrity, which contains both public interest and the democratic process, may not completely be demonstrated. This will greatly affect the false beliefs in society and limit freedom of speech.

According to Marxist Media Theory, media as amplifiers,  ”In Marxist media analysis, media institutions are regarded as being ‘locked into the power structure, and consequently as acting largely in tandem with the dominant institutions in society. The media thus reproduced the viewpoints of dominant institutions not as one among a number of alternative perspectives, but as the central and ‘obvious’ or ‘natural’ perspective”(Curran et al. 1982: 21). This is a prove of media ownership problem which makes the audience shortage of critical perspective.

So what will happen without consolidation of media ownership?


Every issue has two sides, media ownership is not necessarily bad.

Firstly, in my own perspective, media ownership restricts the limitation of freedom of expressing, which happens when freedom of speech conflict with other rights and freedom. Social media is a great example, since it’s the place for anyone to express their opinions, many defamed statements were expressed that may badly affect people or a group of individuals when “The job of media to promote peace initiatives, support individuals and groups who are involved in the peace process” (Raza Hassan). As the example mentioned above, governments and nations should use media as the tool for the promotion of peace and protect their citizen from aggressive ideologies.

Secondly, media oligopoly has the ability to provide more diverse offerings to the consumers. As James Gattuso – a senior research fellow in regulatory policy agreed that the ability to own multiple media allow media owner to provide different programs for the diversity of markets. Basically, media owners can easily serve the needs of the different segments of the viewing population.

Last but not least, the owners innovatively improve quality of media. As the result of the effort to serve the needs of the different segments of viewers and being a locally broadcast, the consolidation of media needs to keep innovating the quality of news. The media audience will be served very well in the term of media ownership

Further details

It is necessary for us to aware of who owns the media we access to get the news. For instance, I use both of Vietnamese newspapers and international sources to access an issue in my country in order to have a more objective view on an issue and avoid being manipulated due to the diversity of media owners I choose.

But what trust do I have in choosing a source of information? I think it depends on my ideology, authenticity, time decay of the news and even general evaluation of public opinion.

To sum up, as a communicator and also a part of media audience, we should be active in evaluating “media ownership” to demonstrate media integrity effectively.

Media audience through my lens

As a media maker, understanding our target audience is not only in order to create great content but also to achieve the results that you want by knowing your audiences and the question is “Is “Bobo doll” always true?”

First and foremost, I want to share my own experience as a media audience a year ago. During 2017, Vietnamese TV series had a popular drama: ‘Living with mother-in-law’ made by director Truong Khoa.

First of all, it’s necessary to understand why this movie was so hot. In Vietnam, there are a lot of prejudices about the mother-in-law, an irritating, aggressive or even cruel woman and “Living with mother-in-law” excellently built a character fit so well with that assumption.

The explosion of debating about mother-in-law topic somehow went too far, there were a lot of provoked stories about cruel mother-in-law uploaded on social media and young women felt scared of being married. Not until when I know about The Reception Theory which was produced during the 1970s and early 1980s, I was impressed by the media creators’ excellent manipulation. It’s not exaggerated to say that The Hypodermic theory was totally true when the Vietnamese audiences were too easy to be influenced and the media works were like a drug and the audiences were drugged.

In another point of view, I strongly believe that the confliction among the audiences’ mindsets is the key to make a topic popular. It’s clear that if the audience is too easy to agree with the message, then what’s next? They will accept it as a fact and no more discussion about it, the topic cannot be a hot topic appeared on social media. For example, at that time, Vietnamese audience felt like expressing their idea about “whether mother-in-law is that cruel?” or “Should young couple live with mother-in-law after married”.

Due to The Reception theory, the media audience will consider how a message is encoded and then decoded with their own perspective. There are 3 types of audience decoding, they may be dominant, negotiated or oppositional since their different experience, belief, gender or even their current mood. And I think the greatness of one producer is to have the ability to make audience share their thoughts in order to fulfil their messages.

To sum up, understanding media audience is to know how active they are and how can we use their decoding to make producers’ message well-known and understood, not to manipulate people’s thoughts.