Can digital ethics thrive in this era of change?

Nina Müller, Director of The Ethical Commerce Alliance
By Nina Müller, Director of The Ethical Commerce Alliance

2022 saw big tech companies like Meta, Google and TikTok fined hundreds of millions across the UK, US and Europe for data breaches. We began to see these companies and brands that prioritise growth with scant regard for consumers, digital ethics and wider society, seem to be getting their just deserts.

However, instead of ushering in a new era of privacy first and ethical practices, the explosion of AI has created a new arms race. This has unravelled a whole new set of ethical questions and with many companies shooting first and asking questions later.

In an era where technology is taking giant strides in its development, the fear of being left behind can feel almost all consuming but it’s vital that businesses do not leave digital ethics at the door.

Can we rely solely on regulation?

Regulation is essential to ensure that businesses prioritise the protection of customers and their data, though 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.

Navigating the ever changing digital landscape

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.

Understanding the consumer perspective

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.

Whilst consumers are showing some degree of hesitancy toward developments in AI for instance, online retailers can’t ignore consumer desire for improved customer experiences, that the latest tech advancements can provide.  However, these shouldn’t be viewed as two competing forces, where the ecommerce sector has to choose between improving their customer experience with latest tech and respecting their data privacy. Ultimately, they are two sides of the same coin, online retailers can only truly provide enhanced customer experiences by living by elevated digital ethics and embracing technological change.

Businesses that prioritise digital ethics in their operations are likely to be more successful in meeting consumer expectations and building trusting relationships. Personal data is being obtained at an alarming rate and consumers’ patience is wearing thin. Now more than ever, it is essential for retail businesses to respect consumers’ digital rights.


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