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Can We Outsmart AI To Protect Consumers?

Jamie Sterns
Apr 7 · 4 min read

Big Data has been a blessing and curse for marketers and while the massive influx of data streams due to the increase in digital marketing platforms, analytic tools and cookies galore, it has also created a glut that even the most established companies have had to figure out how to decipher. To help declutter this access, the increase of the use of AI (artificial intelligence) software and algorithms has enabled companies and marketers to filter through all this data in order to be more targeted and predictive. But there is a catch. The increased use of AI is impacting consumers’ privacy and while it currently feels like the Wild West in trying to reign it in, it is something that must be done.

Lack of Regulation Matters

The use of AI to create more targeted reach of consumers is shockingly unregulated in the US. While Europe has the GDPR (since 2018) to check companies’ privacy breeching, there is not a comparable law in place to protect US consumers. There has been some headway in the form of Senate hearings with companies like Facebook and Google in regards to privacy but there has not been real movement to create laws that would ensure a system of checks and balances on how companies use and access consumer data.

While there has been some movement to make this an obligation of the States and also put into the hands of consumers this wouldn’t be effective. The complexity and vastness of the use of AI in collecting consumer data is difficult for the experts to fully comprehend, so leaving this burden in the hands of consumers is not only ineffective but a form of disenfranchisement.

Instead, there needs to be real Federal oversight of the way that data is collected and the responsibility of the application, use and misuse of data and privacy should be placed on companies. If companies want to gain all the benefits of what data and AI can do for their profits, they should be responsible for how they are utilizing it.

Sure, some companies are creating their own internal regulations but to have real citizen impact, there has to be laws and regulations that envelope all who may be impacted because even though companies and corporations like to say they have consumers’ best interest in mind, we all know that is not reality.

AI Might Be Your Racist Uncle

Another huge issue with AI and the data it scoops up is that it is not very woke. Because there is so much information out there, it has become impossible for actual humans to go through it all, that’s where AI comes in. It has the ability to not only gather this but to be predictive in who, what, and where you are and that leads to a lack of nuance and greater assumptions that are both incorrect and harmful. See the example below discussed by the Brookings Institute.

“The recent controversy over the development of facial recognition software that can predict the sexual orientation of people based on their facial characteristics reveals why ethical review must move beyond protecting human subjects. Dubbed “gayface” software, this experimental facial recognition tool was trained on publicly available photographs and claims to predict sexual orientation from facial characteristics alone. With no foreseeable beneficial use of this technology, it might not be ethical to develop an algorithm when it can only be used for harmful, discriminatory purposes.”

This is just one example of the potential harms and pitfalls of using AI in marketing. While it may help to reach and gather more consumers, it is also harmful in how wrong it may be in understanding who the consumer really is. This is very bad for business and ethics and without there being real awareness of this issue and adjustments made to ensure that this is not being done, this question must be asked — what’s the point of all this data and algorithmic content if it will offend and drive them away?

It Takes Humans To Be Human

As Steve Jobs said, “It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.” This is so true when it comes to the issues of privacy and the application of AI within marketing. We all have to remember that marketing is about human relationships and communication. While there are obvious advantages of being able to collect data on consumers and to organize this for present and future purchases and interactions, it needs to be done empathetically and with intelligence.

We have to use the tools vs. letting the tools use us. This means we have to be in charge. Laws, internal regulations, mission oriented guideposts and the mental, emotional commitment to do what is right and best for consumers is the only way that marketers will come out on top.

People are not just numbers or a series of categories, they are complex and they deserve to be respected for that. We humans have created all of this. The programs that fuel the data machines, the code that makes AI work, the wires that flow under the oceans to interconnect the web, the products people purchase, the songs that sweep up emotions, the text that resonates. We are the creators and we are so amazingly smart and complex. We have all the tools and ability to outsmart AI so that it is in service to us and consumers and not the other way around. Hopefully we also have the temerity and vision to apply all these smarts before we find ourselves in a data and ethical quagmire.

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