Digital marketing ethics in the era of AI

AI has opened the doors to incredible marketing opportunities in marketing and beyond. However, like any innovative technology, it also has the potential for misuse. Brands and agencies need to understand the ethical questions that come with using AI for digital marketing.

AI technologies like Machine Learning (ML) have transformed the marketing world. These tools can unearth patterns in massive data sets, allowing teams to draw powerful insights and predictions that make programmatic advertising more efficient and effective.

This technological advancement puts a lot of power in the hands of marketing teams. But as the old phrase goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Using AI tools for marketing means organizations must grapple with some ethical questions and deal with regulatory measures.

Let’s explore some ethical considerations arising from using AI to boost your marketing.

What do we mean by ethics in AI?

Ethics in AI is a vast subject. It addresses critical 21st-century issues like autonomous war robots, job displacement, and discrimination. However, concerns around AI in marketing are more prosaic but still very important. Some of the main questions surround privacy, copyright, and transparency.

What are your ethical responsibilities as a digital marketer?

This question is fascinating. We can split it into two categories:

  • Legal and regulatory obligations
  • Ethical or moral responsibilities

Legal and regulatory responsibilities of using AI for digital marketing

GDPR regulates what you can do with user data. So, this is a good starting point for examining the ethical aspects of AI in digital marketing.

The first thing we need to consider is finding a balance between personalization and privacy. Some users will be comfortable with brands using their data if it means more relevant recommendations and personalized service. Others will not.

Transparency is the best solution here. Let the users know what you’re using their data for and where you’re using it. Furthermore, ensure they can opt out of data collection. These are the GDPR rules, so it’s not about being caring; it’s about being compliant.

The other thing to consider is that AI needs a lot of data. Again, GDPR enshrines the protection of this data. It also means you are responsible for the third-party vendors you select and how they use this data. Any recklessness means stiff fines.

Ethical or moral responsibilities of using AI for digital marketing

This subject of algorithm bias in AI has been covered extensively elsewhere, so we won’t labor the point. But if AI is trained on human inputs, human biases will creep in. Poor awareness of this could lead to discriminatory advertising practices that target users based on protected characteristics. That could also mean your digital marketing contains inaccurate assumptions that undermine the effectiveness of ads.

We also need to talk about advertising itself. In an ideal world, all ads would be super accurate and just a transfer of honest, unbiased data. But the art of advertising is a little more complex than that. There is a fine line between persuasive ads and psychological manipulation. For example, it’s not hard to imagine a Generative AI with instructions to produce the highest-converting ad might use sales copy tactics that blur ethical lines.

On top of that, there are significant ethical and legal questions about the datasets used by LLMs. Recently, the US Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Generative AI based on copyright infringement and consumer deception, so that’s something to consider if you adopt these tools for your marketing.

What role do Google, Meta, and other platforms play?

At the end of the day, Google and Meta are businesses with a responsibility to their shareholders. While they may sound the horn about ethics, both companies have been mired in scandal over the years. So, it’s fair to say that regulatory scrutiny rather than ethics is at the heart of their protection of users.

Ad Quality Score penalizes dishonest marketing and advertising practices. So that’s a good start for reducing sleazy ads and promoting more ethical behaviors. Similarly, these businesses exist as ad platforms because they have amassed huge data sets of human behavior. Data governance rules mean they need to collect, anonymize, and protect this data in various ways.

Both companies have laid off a lot of AI ethics staff this year. It was a similar story at Microsoft, X, and Twitch. It’s most certainly a concern when major social media platforms cut advocates for ethical practices. Links between digital media and mental health are well-established.

Whether this move suggests shifting priorities toward lean operating models more than a rejection of ethics remains to be seen.

What role do third-party cookie regulations play?

In light of Google and Meta’s data privacy scandals, Apple has chosen to position itself as the privacy-focused Big Tech company. The iOS14 update was just as much about branding as it was about concern for user data. Similarly, 2024 will see Google remove third-party cookies from Chrome.

So, targeting users will be less effective, and campaign attribution will be compromised. We have all been living through this over the last few years, and it’s hurt the effect of many marketers’ ads and pushed up customer acquisition costs (CAC).

Machine learning could provide a credible alternative avenue here. By analyzing huge data sets, this AI tool can fill in the attribution gaps by deciphering underlying patterns.

At Amanda AI, our machine uses an impact-driven effect model to deliver timely and targeted ads to audiences that are likely to convert. This approach removes the need to rely on third-party cookies without compromising marketing effectiveness.

Final thoughts

AI marketing has opened the door to both good and bad possibilities. How businesses use these tools will tell us a lot about their intentions. Fostering trust, transparency, and honesty will help you build stronger bonds with your users during a time when data privacy is a vocal concern for consumers. The balancing act between privacy and personalization will be a key ethical battleground.

Being real, not every business will consider AI ethics to be a luxury they can afford. If the chips are down, things could get blurry. However, with robust regulations that don’t go too far or stifle innovation, it’s a tightrope that businesses can walk.

Related content

Digital marketing is one of the most exciting and fast-moving sectors in modern business. With great rewards available for teams that outwork their rivals, it’s no surprise the space is stuffed with innovation. Here are the biggest digital marketing trends and insights for 2024 and beyond.
In February 2023, Microsoft announced that its Bing search engine would implement ChatGPT. The announcement caused quite a stir and forced the technology community to rethink how chatbot-powered search would change our relationships and reliance on computers.
Universal Analytics (UA) stopped processing hits on July 1st this year. Now that the sun setting is well underway and GA4 has been in place for a while, it’s time to see how it’s all going for sales and marketing teams. So, let’s have a look.

In this article

Stay updated

Get on the (email) list!

Stay updated

Join our newsletter