The Ethical Analysis OF Businesses Buying And Selling Personal Information Research Papers Example

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Information, Business, Customers, Company, Ethics, Commerce, Consumer, Internet

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/09/21


All businesses and organizations have an ethical reputation to uphold in the eyes of its stakeholders. Organizations and businesses have a social responsibility to adhere to in order to maximize a positive outcome for all shareholders and stakeholders in the business or organization. Wealth and economic value are to be achieved in business while abiding by all laws and also following ethical business standards and practices. A collection of personal consumer information is constant in today’s market and some businesses are using and abusing their consumer’s personal information. There are morally correct and incorrect ways of utilizing consumer personal information in that consumers either benefit or can suffer from the consequences. Some companies and organizations are being dishonest, an unethical business practice, to their consumers when they ask for unneeded personal information or are not honest about what the information is to be used for within their business. Businesses and organizations do not, nor are they legally bind by, being honest in what they are using a consumer’s personal information for. This abuse of information can have an adverse effect for a business’s legitimacy and ethical stance in the eyes of the stakeholders. Companies and organizations can however, utilize information to benefit it’s consumers by taking the information they have already received and offering that customer goods or services based on previous preferences to better aid the consumer in an additional purchase to better suit their needs. Internet based companies have been collecting and selling data to other businesses and organizations for years now and the ethical issues and benefits are continuing to merge into more consumer based threats and benefits than ever before.


According to Kelly Shermach of the Ecommerce Times (2006), consumers give out their own personal information on a daily basis without even knowing or being aware that it is happening. Making a credit or debit card transaction at a store or online or getting money from the ATM, browsing web sites as well as making a cellular phone call, all of these instances are examples of sharing personal information with a business or organization, who could in turn sell or share that information to data collection agencies for a profit (Shermach, 2006). Other companies, however, take personal information they receive from a consumer and put it to better use such as pursuing better marketing campaigns geared toward “enhancing the customer experience” (Shermach, 2006). Companies are constantly using personal information data to set business goals for themselves (Riglian, 2012). Unfortunately, just because a company is trying to aid the consumer in a better buying experience does not mean that the way a company goes about doing so is ethical. An example from TechTarget is the case of the online based travel company, Orbitz, charging Apple, Inc. users more money on their travel plans because in a set of data they were using, it showed that consumers with Apple, Inc. products were inclined to spend more for their travel and vacation plans (Riglian, 2012). In this case, a dishonest and fraudulent use of personal information had occurred and the company was compromised in the eyes of its shareholders, and the only people not benefiting from the use of the data set was the consumer.
An invasion of personal privacy is at stake whenever a consumer logs on to a web site and makes a purchase, or makes an online phone call (Ramjee, 2015). The accuracy of information that is being shared by businesses is not always spot on, for example, if a “potential employer purchases data from an unreliable data broker, he may think you’ve been convicted of a felony, which could prevent you from landing a job, even if the information is false” (Ramjee, 2015). This constant sharing from business to business of personal information is compromised by businesses that are unethical in their business practices, policies and procedures. Priti Ramjee states that “when the sale of personal information is misused, the effects can be devastating” (2015). An example being healthcare providers being able to purchase information on the goods and services an insured consumer purchases in order to profile them to be able to profile an insurance candidate or already insured consumer for discrimination and healthcare policy upcharges (Gregory and others, 2004). When medical records and medical information is sold to healthcare providers, they are able to raise the rates of seniors and people diagnosed with illnesses; this information also allows healthcare providers to sell that information to businesses claiming to sell a cure for whatever illness may be ailing the insured consumer (Ramjee, 2015). Another example from the Houston Chronicle is when a health insurance member makes a plus size purchase at a store, the health care provider is able to send that person information on health insurance weight loss plans and able to raise their rates for being an ‘at-risk’ insured person (Hanks, 2005). This is a very unethical practice that hurts the dynamic of the healthcare system because “all people should have the same rights to purchase insurance” (Ramjee, 2015).
Technological advances in the consumer industries currently do not have laws that can keep up with current business activities (Frenz, 2015). There is a “looming gap” between ethical technologists and data collection companies (Lundquist, 2013). The buying and selling of information from business to business has made it extremely likely in today’s day and age to become the victim of identity theft (Frenz, 2015). Companies such as Experian, Acxiom, ChoicePoint, Unisys and HotData are large data collection companies that rely solely on the collection of personal data from the internet to sell to other companies for a profit (Gergory and others, 2004). From ChoicePoint, there have been over 800 reported cases of identity theft, a devastating outcome of fraud (Frenz, 2015). Identity theft comes from companies breaching confidentiality in their use of the personal information they have obtained through sales from their consumers (Culnan, 2009). Companies such as TJX, the popular off-designer clothing and accessory stores, have made victims of their consumers in a breach of security, exposing their consumer’s identities and credit card information to people and organizations that only wanted to abuse the information (Culnan, 2009). As of 2005, over 246 million records containing personal information have been breached (Culnan, 2005). “Information privacy is an important information management issue that continues to challenge organizations” (Culnan, 2009).
Large data collection companies are also using personal use web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube to actively gain consumer insight and sell that information to other companies needing that information to better advertise to their consumers. This may well help the consumer’s buying experience, but is it ethical for a company to know how many friends and what your every likes are? Some companies speak out against the use of information such as those from web sites that are supposed to have privacy policies to aid a user’s identify to allow only what they want to share with the public to be displayed on their own pages (Beckett, 2012). Data collection companies such as Epsilon claim they only use information to aid in providing consumer businesses with analytical insights to better reach and interact with their customers (Beckett, 2012). All this information leads to behavioral consumer profiling for companies, but is it really ethical for a business to create a behavioral profile of a consumer they have never interacted with and then sell it to another company? (Shermach, 2006). A “widespread access to public information” makes it easy for data collection companies to collect and publish information on the internet (Lundquist, 2013).
Smart phones are another large piece of evidence against unethical use of personal information. “Your phone company knows where you live, what websites you visit, what apps you download, what videos you like to watch, and even where you are” (Goldman, 2011). The thought that all that information is available to purchase is a little overwhelming from a consumer standpoint because it means that in reality, privacy does not exist anywhere in today’s day and age. Companies such as Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have hanged their privacy policies in order to sell subscriber information to other companies such as the age and gender of the subscriber, their location, as well as their browsing history (Goldman, 2011). This information is usually beneficial to small business owners looking for a demographic report on where to open up a business based on reports generated by the phone companies (Goldman, 2011).


Although selling and/or sharing information can be profitable for a business, there is a moral principle that should be followed by a business or organization to not allow the vulnerability of its consumers’ personal information negatively affect the financial relationship between business and shareholders. “A firm that recognizes its moral responsibilities is also likely to gain legitimacy in the eyes of important internal audiences” (Culnan, 2009). Ethical issues up for debate within the personal information business to business sales are that of privacy, accuracy, property, and accessibility (Culnan, 2009). Security measures should be implemented by any business willing to sell or share the personal information of its consumers in order to create a socially responsible business practice within the ever growing, technologically advancing internet based industry. Ethical practices need to be taken into account more readily in order to maintain stakeholder integrity within the market today.


Beckett, L. (12 Nov. 2012). Yes, Companies are Harvesting-and Selling-Your Facebook Profile. ProPublica. Retrieved from companies-are-harvesting-and-selling-your-facebook-profile/
Culnan, M. (Dec. 2009). How Ethics can Enhance Organizational Privacy: Lessons from the ChoicePoint and TJX Data Breaches. MIS Quarterly, 33. Retrieved from ty_Lessons_from_the_ChoicePoint_and_TJX_Data_breaches
Frenz, R. (2015). Cases on Ethical Issues in Information Systems. eHow. Retrieved from systems.html
Goldman, D. (1 Nov. 2011). Your phone company is selling your personal data. CNN Money. Retrieved from
Gregory, K., Laincz, J., Nitchke, J., Pa Yang, T. (2004). Corporate Use of Customer Information. Ethica Publishing. Retrieved from
Hanks, G. (2015). E-Business Ethical Issues on Selling Personal information. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from issues-sellingpersonal-information-65718.html
Lundquist, E. (2013). Why You’ll Need a Big Data Ethics Expert. InformationWeek. Retrieved from ethics-expert/d/d-id/1108001?
Ramjee, P. (2015). E-Businesses Ethical Issues on Selling Personal Information. eHow. Retrieved from personal-information.html
Riglian, A. (Nov. 2012). ‘Big data’ Collection efforts spark an info ethics debate. TechTarget. Retrieved from collection-efforts-spark-an-information-ethics-debate
Shermach, K. (25 Aug. 2006). Data Mining: Where Legality and Ethics Rarely Meet. ECommerceTimes. Retrieved from 52616.html

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