Are We Facing a Moral Dilemma?

Facebook’s Like and Twitter’s Tweet buttons track and collect an individual’s online browsing habits wherever a Like or Tweet button can be found. These buttons are featured on the world’s top 1,000 visited sites, and data is collected regardless of whether or not the button is clicked. For this collection of data to happen, an individual only needs to have logged onto Facebook once in the past month. Facebook will continue to collect browsing data even if the browser or computer has been turned on and off multiple times. The collection stops once the individual logs out of Facebook. (Wall Street Journal article.)

While this data, to my knowledge, has not yet been used to understand shopping behaviors in the United States, the potential is there. Clearly, there are other ways to obtain shopper behavior data, but for now I let myself consider the scenario above.

As a person extremely curious about shoppers’ behaviors, the potential of this method provides intimate knowledge about what U.S. shoppers are actually doing. I’ll be honest, I’m giddy, and mesmerized by the possibilities. Yet, I’m left nauseated and question whether a line is being crossed. A moral tension.

As more privacy laws are passed in the United States, I often find myself wondering. What do my Smartphone and online habits reveal about me as a shopper? Am I proud of what’s revealed? Do I really want marketers and business people to know? Should I change my mindset to believe that everything I do online and on my Smartphone is public? What does privacy really mean?

And, ultimately, if I had this kind of data at my disposal would I analyze it? Or turn away from it?

Gulp, I’d analyze it. The possibility of uncovering and understanding something new regarding human and shopping behavior is exciting. I want to know and learn!

I think I’m going to Hell.