I do not believe that it is ethical for companies to gather users’ information and data mine it in order to sell products and services. The biggest problem with this practice in my opinion is that companies are clearly unable to properly secure this information. The security vulnerabilities described in the articles on the iCloud and Equifax data breaches are two great examples of what happens when a company has too much data on a user. Obviously, these situations are slightly different because the user consented to giving up this data and these organizations provide services to users using that data, but it does go to show that once a company gets a hand on your data, anyone can. In the case of targeted advertising, the situation is even more murky because these companies are not really providing any service to users (unless you count coupons). This results in a situation in which users are giving up their information without consent and the only ones benefiting from the transaction are the companies taking that information. This does not seem right to me. Of course, as a user there is really nothing that one can do about this, so responsibility must ultimately fall to developers to not overreach and collect more data than is necessary on users and to do everything in their power to secure that data once they have it.
Privacy is an unrealistic expectation in this era of pervasive computing. If you are using any time of digital device today, you can be almost certain that it is tracking at least your usage habits if not also your location and other peripheral data. Because this is the state of technology in 2018, it falls to the privacy-conscious user to protect his or her information by using products that explicitly value users’ privacy and to simply avoid sharing information on digital platforms except when absolutely necessary. Even if one is conscious of their digital footprint, they can never completely avoid having their data collected. They will still be tracked by their financial activity as described in the article on Target’s customer analytics, they will still have friends and family uploading their images and location data on social media, they will still have Google and the NSA cataloguing their every move on the web.
I would like to think that I am someone who is a little more than privacy-conscious than the average user. DuckDuckGo is my search engine of choice, and I make an effort to use as little social media as possible (which as a college student is still admittedly too much). I also, primarily for convenience, use an adblocker. I use these tools whenever I browse the internet because the modern web experience is a massive headache without them. Auto playing videos, pop-up ads and the like are not only annoying but can sometimes slow down or break the web page they are on. I think it is ethical to use these tools. I do have adblockers disabled for a handful of smaller independent websites I visit that serve ads tastefully, but in general I believe users should have control over the products and services they interact with. That is how the market should work – where products are made for customers, not where customers’ data and screen-time are sold as products.