Dr. Huichuan Liu
Department of Information & Communication, TamKang University
Consumer Surveillance without Privacy Invasion: In Search of Privacy-Friendly Internet Marketing Practices
Audience are encouraged to engage in lively debate regarding the following questions: Is it possible to have consumer surveillance without privacy invasion on the Internet? What are common online marketing practices on the Internet? What constitutes invasion of personal privacy?What constitutes consensual surveillance What can consumers do to protect their personal privacy from online marketers on the Internet
The convergence of telecommunication and computer technologies has expanded the range of opportunities for human interactions and commercial transactions across time and space. The Internet as well as the WWW in recent years has become an integral part of the emerging network service economy. Along with the rise of a network-based economy, there is a trend from mass production and mass advertising to mass customization. Many industries are undergoing fundamental shifts. Businesses of various industries are creating variety and customization to keep up with increasingly fragmented demands and heterogeneous niches. These economic shifts have qualitatively changed the dynamics between marketers and consumers. In particular they have created incentives for business firms and marketers to surveil consumers' consumption behaviors. Indeed the increasing popularity of the Internet and the WWW is in part a response to the growing demand for consumer surveillance and easy ways of establishing service or commercial relationships with current and potential customers. Yet concerns about and awareness of potential threats to privacy have also increased. The purpose of the proposed paper is to address consumer surveillance and personal privacy implications of Internet marketing. Rather than taking a pessimistic stand that treats all consumer surveillance as malicious coercive attempts from online marketers and all are detrimental to personal privacy, this paper proactively looks for the possibility of consensual online consumer surveillance practices, i.e., privacy-friendly online marketing practices.
Specifically, the paper will first discuss the concept of privacy. Instead of treating privacy merely as a legal right, it is considered as a social construct. Privacy does not mean a state of solitude. It is more a relational concept, i.e., it is meaningful only in relation to others in some sort of social conduct. Privacy refers to the capability of negotiating boundary conditions with others in social relations. This conception of privacy includes control of both outflows and inflows of information in different social contexts. In other words, privacy is the ability of a person to decide what personal information is to be disclosed to others in different social encounters, including how others may use the disclosed information, and who may initiate contact with the person, in either proximate or virtual spaces. Secondly, the paper then will turn to explicate the concept of surveillance.
Surveillance means systematic observation. Consumer surveillance refers to systematic observation of consumers' consumption behaviors and use patterns based on, as well as generated from, information yielded from interactions and transactions. In the case of Internet-based online marketing, consumer surveillance includes the collection and processing of consumer information for the purpose of generating consumer profiles for marketing purposes primarily. As mass production is being replaced by customized production, mass marketing is increasingly replaced by customized marketing to target, to locate and to persuade special segments of consumers.
Consumer surveillance thus involves massive information collection on consumption behaviors and patterns. Consumer surveillance, from the perspective of vendors or marketers, serves as an efficient tool to facilitate customized production and marketing; yet from the perspective of consumers, it tends to detract from consumers' privacy. With the basic understanding of the conception of privacy and surveillance, privacy-friendly online marketing or consensual consumer surveillance thus may no longer be impossible but become negotiable. The paper finally will focus on identifying common online marketing mechanisms and practices. In conclusion, a set of privacy-friendly or consensual consumer surveillance practices and policies will be generated.
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