Brand Trust in a Surveillance Economy

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A June 2019 article on Fast Company entitled “I left the Ad Industry Because Our Use of Data Tracking Terrified Me” by Richard Stokes raises an interesting question about Brand Trust in the surveillance economy. Here at The Social Media Magnet, trust is one of the four pillars of creating a consistent and sustaining brand. According to Stokes, a consumer’s trust in most brands would be specifically questioned by consumers if they actually were aware of the surveillance practices of these firms. He states that advertising no longer seeks connection with consumers, but about finding new ways of extracting more and more personal information from computers, phones, and smart homes.

Everything is relaying data back to company in this Internet Age of Things.  C-Pap machines relay information to insurance companies, refrigerators back to grocery stores, and cars back to engineers. Neil Patel expects that by 2020, there will be 50.1 Billion machines on the Internet. As Stokes communicates, those “products” are no longer the real product.  “We” are the real products, and the devices and services that we use are just afterthoughts engineered to keep us hooked.  “With every post, click, and purchase, we have become the product. I didn’t agree to that, and I bet you didn’t either.” We are now all a part of the surveillance economy. 

The truth is, it’s not that we don’t know this.  In fact, a recent Pew study demonstrated that six-in-ten Americans (61%) have said they would like to do more to protect their privacy. Additionally, two-thirds have said current laws are not good enough in protecting people’s privacy, and 64% support more regulation of advertisers. Companies for more than a decade have said that there is no need for opt outs on personal data because people like targeted ads. Yes, there is no denying that there is convenience in the way that targeted ads know exactly what we want when we want it, but Stokes argues that there should at least be a choice, and this choice is argued to include what the company is doing with your data, why, and for how long.  And, it should be communicated in plain language, easy to understand for the least educated.

Lastly, Stokes claims there is hope.  Recently, Microsoft voluntarily disclosed its end points for Windows 10, giving users a granular understanding of what data Windows is collecting, where it’s going, and how it is getting there. It’s a start, and one for all of those concerned about data privacy can begin to benchmark against, but with all previous data privacy enhancements more about monopolizing data, rather than protecting it, there may still be many skeptics in the surveillance economy.

The digital marketing arena is flush with these ethical discussions for your classroom and we address these dilemmas in our curriculum. If you are a college professor and are not familiar with The Social Media Magnet, please watch our 28-Minute Webinar explaining what we do.  If you are interested in considering The Social Media Magnet for your university, we have a professor preview function that will allow you to see and work with some of the content.  If you are already in preview, which many of you are, and you are ready to commit to using our curriculum in your next semester’s class, then fill out our Commitment Form to get on-boarded and prepped for your next class.  Or if you just have some general questions, feel free to contact us.  We would love to assist you however possible.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay