Is Opinion Mining Ethical?

Opinion mining, also known as sentiment analysis is the study that analyses the sentiment behind various comments and reviews used to express emotions, opinions and ideas. The ultimate goal is to derive insights on brand value and customer feedback which helps to enhance user experience.

The popularity of sentiment analysis is ascending rapidly to analyse customer’s reactions, anticipate election outcomes, monitor market trends, understand purchasing trends, predict prices and what not especially when data is coming in from every direction ranging from ATM transactions to ticket booking and website browsing.

Various companies collect user data by tracking their movements and time spent on a particular webpage or by collecting user details like age, sex, area of residence etc. to understand how the company is performing in the market as well as monitor its competitors.

Data collection with the consent of the user is legal but the real question is how ethical is it? Time and again questions have been raised about the contentious nature of data collection practices and data security. It is a major challenge faced by modern enterprises dealing with data.

It is seen that individuals and companies are sharing, rather selling, user data without the user knowledge and that scares the customers as a third party is monitoring their activities and knows their whereabouts.

For example, an individual bought a cell phone from a Y company and gave his/her information to Y company for better servicing and regular updates but this Y company sold this collected data to some Z company for financial gains. Now, selling user’s confidential data for monetary benefits is illegal, unethical, leads to hindrance in customer privacy and breaks customer’s trust in the company.

Also, the line between private and public data is decreasing these days primarily because of the increased use of social media. Data can be collected from the uploaded photos, reviews, surveys, check-ins, web browsing etc. It is true that services have become intrusive and damaging to an extent. For example, recently Facebook was scrutinized for sharing positive and negative posts, updates and memories on user’s news feed to analyse customer behaviour and their emotional output to that content. This has caused agony among users in some cases as it is unethical to use consumer’s data without their consent.

Although opinion mining has proven to be a boon to companies, it can defame them as well if ethical data collection practices are not followed. The consequences can be severe leading to depleting brand value, financial losses or complete shutdown.

It is really important to maintain the trust and transparency in B2C relationships for maintaining the credibility of the brand.

Coming back to the question we started with, is opinion mining ethical? In my opinion, it totally depends on what data collection practices an individual or the company follows and the intent behind collecting that data.

Apoora Jain

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