Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Understanding the new tech landscape in 2023 – Are digital ethics being left behind?

By Nina Müller, Director of The Ethical Commerce Alliance

The explosion of AI this year has seen the creation of a new battleground for big tech companies and other competing brands. Many in the tech sector have seemingly prioritised growth above all else with little regard for consumers’ digital rights and ethics. 

This comes off the back of a 2022 where tech giants like Meta, TikTok and Google were fined hundreds of millions across the UK, US and Europe for various data breaches. However instead of ushering a new era of elevated data privacy standards and transparency, the technology sector seems hell bent on repeating the same mistakes.

As AI opens up a whole host of new ethical questions, it is vital now more than ever that the tech sector remains committed to transparency, data privacy and ethics.

Is regulation the solution?

Regulation is essential to ensure that businesses prioritise the protection of customers and their data. However,  it is becoming clear that we can not rely solely on government intervention to keep regulation aligned with the rate of technological change occurring in modern society.

The onus is on us as active participants in the digital space to recognise our role in shaping ecommerce and the regulations that guide it. While government intervention is crucial in settling a baseline of ethical standards for businesses to meet, it is important for businesses to be self-reflective in their approach to digital ethics. Such an approach that takes an active stand can stay ahead of the curve of technological advancements and protect their end users.

Striking a balance between the need for regulation and the drive for progress is challenging, especially with new technologies and trends emerging at a previously unprecedented rate. However, the only way we can build a digital ecosystem that champions both innovation and ethics is by pulling together and taking responsibility for our own ethical practices.

Perfecting the balancing act

Keeping pace with technological advancement while protecting consumers and users is a daunting task; one which requires online retailers to think introspectively and hold themselves to the highest standards of digital ethics and data protection. Adhering to GDPR requirements is an absolute minimum, but as we’ve discussed, solely relying on regulation to guide us isn’t enough. It is important that businesses go above and beyond this to demonstrate that consumer privacy is a priority, and that digital rights are at the forefront of their agendas.

However, this does not mean that businesses have to take a step back and simply not engage with latest tech developments. Being transparent with consumers about how their data is collected, used and shared demonstrates accountability, which is something that consumers value highly. Clear statements about data collection practices and the purpose of them allows brands to demonstrate exactly how important their customers’ protection is to them, providing users with a sense of agency over their data rights which ultimately nurtures a trusting relationship.

By continuously evolving, evaluating and being open to adopting best practices, companies give themselves the best chance to remain in favour with consumers. Adhering to latest regulations is the minimum expectation that consumers expect businesses to meet at present; only by exceeding these expectations can businesses bulletproof their reputations and establish trust with their customers.

Earning the trust of the consumer

Consumers are undoubtedly becoming increasingly aware of the importance of privacy in the digital age, and this is impacting their attitudes towards privacy. This rings especially true as technology continues to advance, allowing for more invasive user data collection and analysis. Consumers are now demanding accountability and transparency from the brands they use as they become more aware of the consequences of their data being compromised.

Thanks to increasing public pressure for tech companies to be transparent about their data collection and use policies, a greater emphasis has been placed on data security and protection measures. Growing interest in privacy boosting technologies, such as secure messaging apps, virtual private networks (VPNs) and privacy-focused browsers reflects this narrative. More users than ever before are looking to protect their online privacy and prevent their data from being tracked or monitored.

It’s important to address the latest innovation with a certain level of scepticism and consumers are also displaying a degree of hesitancy to new technologies such as AI. However, this does not mean that we should blacklist whole swathes of advancements in technology. We can embrace change whilst remaining responsible and provide improved customer experiences.

Businesses that embody elevated digital ethics in their operations are far more likely to meet consumer expectations and nurture trusting relationships. Personal data is being obtained at an alarming rate and consumer patience is wearing thin, so it is now more essential than ever for businesses to respect consumers’ digital rights and embody the change they want to see.