When is Web Tracking Ethical?
Privacy is without doubt THE issue developers are going to need to grapple with this century. As web developers, we have the ability to collect information to an extent that was previously unfathomable. In many cases, the data we collect, combined with inferential statistics allow us to know our users better than we know ourselves.
While this new age of tracking creates sustainable business models without requiring payment from users, it has also opened up a pandora’s box of ethical questions that startups need to be ready for.
How transparent should we be with our tracking? How do we anonymize our user’s data? What do we use their data for?
Of course, you and your company should always be aware of and in compliance with the relevant privacy laws in the jurisdictions that you do business. That being said, law is only the minimal acceptable behavior that a society tolerates. On top of following the law, you and your team should have serious conversations about the ethics of your web tracking.
In this article, we’ll talk about different considerations that your team should be making with regards to your web tracking
All the data that you collect is going to have different degrees of sensitivity. Are your users going to care if you track whether or not they use dark mode? Probably not. Is your user going to care how you track financial and medical information? Very much so.
How your company approaches web tracking is going to depend on the level of sensitivity of the data you are working with. More sensitive data means you need to invest more into cybersecurity and be much more transparent about your tracking behavior.
Additionally, you need to be sensitive about who you share this data with. Is there a reason why your user may not want a certain piece of information tied to them? Are your users living in a country where the data you track could possibly be used to persecute them?
The answer to a lot of these questions can be answered by being transparent with your users about your data practices. Again, you should always make sure you are in compliance with the law. Of course, compliance with the law is not always going to mean that your users have fully grasped what your tracking policy.
Making your tracking policy transparent is necessary to prevent your users from using your platform in a way that would put their personal information at risk. Keeping your user’s information secure is oftentimes a team sport. You need to do everything in your power to protect your user’s data, but your user also needs to be responsible about how they use your platform. Being transparent is the best way to achieve this.
Anonymity and Security
It is inevitable that you are going to store at least some user information. The technicalities of how you choose to do so are extremely important.
Data anonymization is making it harder to identify user data with the identity of a user. There are multitudes of ways to achieve this, many of which being required by law. This is often done through encryption and by separating sensitive information ( like medical or financial information) from identifying information (Name, Email, Zip Code).
Even if you correctly anonymize your data, there is still a substantial risk of malicious actors (both within and outside your team) from being able to piece back together the data. If you’re dealing with sensitive information, you should be investing in proper cyber security.
The Golden Rule
At the end of the day, answering these questions is oftentimes going to require putting yourself in the shoes of your users. What tracking policies make you uncomfortable? If you told a random person on the street what your tracking policy was, would they be outraged? Does your userbase have a good understanding of your policy?
These sorts of issues are only going to continue to evolve. The most important thing is that you and your team sit down to have a real conversation about it.
What do you think? Let us know down below!
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