Data ethics

This article is part of a series of articles on data ethics. Read more.

Need to know

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a game changing technology and has an undeniable impact on ethics, as it introduces a non-human actor to decision making processes
  • This has a complex impact on marketing due to the nuances of creativity, persuasion and AI
  • Valid concerns around possible negative or unintended impacts of AI and marketing should be explored sooner rather than later
  • AI is underpinning more and more marketing activity, contributing many little nudges and moments that influence the world around us in not insignificant ways i.e. what we watch, read, eat, listen to, buy and how and what we learn about the world
  • There are three useful questions we should ask ourselves for ethical decision making in relation to AI and marketing: 1. Agency – who is responsible? 2. Intent – what did they want to do? 3. Outcomes: what actually happened?
  • There are four common concerns or challenges marketers face regarding AI ethics, each discussed in detail below: Unfair advantage, unconscious bias, unintended consequences, unethical usage
  • Addressing these issues matters because we can have a lot of insidious and potentially unethical targeting and optimisation decisions happening without us even realising. From systems that accidentally target vulnerable individuals (such as with gambling) to marketing which is simply sub-optimal because of a problem in the underlying data
  • There are some key principles that can minimise risks. Humans and machines should work together but ultimately, humans should act as the supermanager – in control of the system
  • Having a diversity of data, teams and thought will ensure a range of voices are in the room, who aren’t all drinking the same Kool-Aid
  • Building in safeguards and a ‘killswitch’ is something AI developers and marketeers should be conscious of. It involves a ‘pre-mortem’ exercise, wherein you imagine all the ways it could go catastrophically wrong, and plan to guard against
  • Engage design ethicists and algorithm design experts – every company should have a clear point of view on appropriate use of data, machine learning, targeting and dynamic creative in their working practices
  • As AI advances, we must properly examine who has agency so that we can apportion credit or blame. If an AI breaks the rules, who is at fault? The original developer? The user of the tool? Or the AI itself? The legal status of non-human entities is complex but must be addressed
  • If creativity is being done by a machine it can move from persuasion to manipulation and so creativity becomes cynical. This raises the question: if marketing represents one of the major creative outputs we see in culture, what does it mean for humanity if an increasing proportion of it is generated by machine?
  • If we become mere caretakers for machines that dictate what we watch, what we buy, what we listen to; the music we hear, write the plots for the TV that we watch. What then?
  • It’s time to take algorithm design and design ethics seriously. Each company should have a clear point of view on appropriate use of data, machine learning, targeting and dynamic creative in their working practices. This is sensible business practice that minimises potential fall-out, but is also the right thing to do.

Marketing is rife with difficult ethical decisions