If you know anything about building and running a successful business, then you’ll know that the first step when embarking upon any sort of project or initiative is to understand your customers.

Whether it’s building a website, developing a brand, creating a new product or service, or absolutely anything else, it’s crucial that you have a clear understanding of exactly who you’re trying to reach.

But this creates a bit of an ethical dilemma, doesn’t it?

There can be a massive conflict of interest here.

You want as much customer data as possible. But customers have a right to privacy.

Ethics & privacy in the digital space

As an organisation keen to learn more about your audience, you naturally want to collect, gather, and analyse as much data as possible about your users. From web forms that collect personal information to tracking tools which monitor and report on a user’s online behaviour, that data is highly valuable. This is how you’re going to understand more about what users want. It’s how you’re going to build personas that enable you to shape your approach, and connect with the right people at the right time.

Collecting this data is what’s right for your business.

But ask yourself this… is it what’s right for your users, too? That’s where we need to consider ethics.

In a way, collecting huge amounts of data is good for your users. After all, the reason you’re collecting it is that you want to provide users with the very best online experience. Knowing what they’re looking for when they’re online is the starting point for giving them exactly what they need.

But on the other hand, it’s important to remember that each individual has a right to privacy. They have a right to know what their information is being used for. They have a right to know that their information is safe. They have a right to data protection. Even more so, now that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is in full swing. There’s a conflict between privacy and personalisation.

Ethically, we need to take this into account. Ethical approaches to creating a website mean moving forward in a way that’s right. Not just right for your business alone, but for everyone, and everything.

This means that you may wish to take some ethical considerations into account to ensure you’re always doing what’s best for your users. Here are a few things that you might want to think about…

Data collection

It can be very tempting to try and collect as much information about your users as possible. After all, the more information you have, the more insight you can gain. But it’s important to ask yourself if you really need to know everything. Ethically, information should be collected only as needed. It should be relevant. And it should be limited. You should only collect information that you can utilise, and which helps you bring value to your customers. Always ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’.

Behaviour tracking

Tracking is one of the best ways to learn more about how your users interact with your website, allowing you to adapt the online experience in the right way. And typically, this is done using cookies. From an ethical perspective – and a legal one – users must explicitly give their permission for cookies to collect their data. However, you may wish to make the shift to cookieless analytics. Google’s GA4 is an example, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict how users will behave.

Compliance

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the privacy legislation covering the UK and European Union. It makes it a legal requirement for businesses to collect, store, use, and dispose of customer data in a way that’s clear, open, honest, and fair. Under the GDPR,  if you collect any sort of customer information, you need to obtain explicit consent for that data to be used in the ways that you intend. You also need to provide customers with opportunities to control how their data is being used.

Security

Any information that you hold is at risk – all the time. Cyber attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the more valuable the data you hold, the more attractive you are as a target. If you’re collecting customer data, security has got to be a primary ethical consideration. Your customers place their trust in you to handle their data with care and confidence. It’s your responsibility to ensure you’re following best practices, and securing your systems and network.

Finding the right balance

When you’ve got article after article telling you that the ability to create personalised online experiences is key to success, it’s natural to want to collect as much user information as you can.

But it’s important to remember that your website is more than just a ‘website’. It’s your online presence. It’s your way of telling visitors who you are, what you value, and what you stand for. When you’re clear on how you’re taking measures to protect the privacy of your users, you’re making a statement that your users matter. You’re saying that you care about them, and that they can trust you. This can go a long way towards building relationships and enhancing your reputation.

So, when it comes to privacy, there’s a real need to balance personalisation and ethical duty.

By understanding more about how to collect the right data, how to store that data safely, and how to use that data in the best possible way, you can make your data really work for you. Personalisation and privacy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They can work together to help organisations create fantastic online experiences while still giving every user the right to feel protected and in control.

Need more information on ethical or other website issues? Give us a call to discuss your needs further.

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