Big Data and Ethics
It is essential that PR professionals understand the impact of big data and ethics in communication practices. The evolution of the web structure is rapidly accelerating, which makes the process even more challenging.
Metadata and Artificial Intelligence
Metadata is revolutionary, because it facilitates the process of recognition and 'production of meaning' of contents by automated systems. They classify and describe people, products and concepts using metadata and not textual data, through an invisible computer code attached to each file. If for humans this information is invisible or incomprehensible, for Artificial Intelligence (AI) metadata is easily readable and useful.
All this allows users to go beyond the simple word match, in addition to conceptual research. For example, a conceptual search for “companies investing in green energy” could return data about companies investing in solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources – not just documents containing the specific search words. Furthermore, the more these algorithms learn, the better they are at delivering relevant information.
With these added semantic capabilities, the current web is boosting recommendation actions, tracking users' digital footprint and proactively providing relevant information. These recommendations are based on users' interests as determined by their previous searches, views, downloads, posts and purchases.
The Human Element
More and more often web users will not have to find information – the relevant information goes “to meet you”. When combined with technologies such as geolocation tracking and big data – vast repositories of information captured and stored – segmentation will be easier. We will be able to message people in specific places at specific times based on their specific interests. This has major financial and ethical implications for marketers and service providers.
With such evolving and expanding capabilities, PR professionals must be aware of and respect the rights of social media users and be increasingly aware of their ethical dimension. Data usage and segmentation must not invade privacy. Furthermore, organizations must not misrepresent their intentions on social media platforms and must be transparent in their marketing and promotion activities. The boundaries are blurring and disappearing between online advertising, news and commentary. New forms of content must be carefully considered and approached with reflective practices and appropriate codes of ethics.
It should always be remembered that ethical communication is the foundation of professional Public Relations.