Does WeChat Moments advertising invade your privacy?
In the new media era, the main carrier of digital advertising is the Internet, and online advertising has penetrated into people’s daily life and work, providing them with a large amount of service information. Through user data (location, tags, preferences) and other dimensions, “personalized recommendation” and “thousands of people” are the biggest advantages of digital advertising. However, with the continuous development of science and technology, there is a lot of undesirable information in online advertising, such as false advertising and the spread of illegal information. At the same time, there are also many problems with online advertising, such as the lack of a perfect market access system for online advertising and the lack of a censorship mechanism for online advertising.
This blog will analyze the privacy issues of digital advertising in three parts. First, based on the reading materials, the relationship between online advertising and privacy and security issues will be summarized and analyzed. Then, the relationship between digital advertising and users’ privacy and security will be analyzed by taking the current largest online social networking platform in China — WeChat Moments advertising as an example. Finally, we critically analyze the current situation of this network and the problems that may arise and make relevant suggestions.
What is privacy?
Privacy encompasses the right to be free from unwarranted interference or intrusion. In the digital era, information privacy refers to the ability to exercise control over the collection and utilization of personal data. As technology continues to evolve, the landscape of information privacy has become increasingly intricate due to the vast amounts of data sharing that go on. This complexity arises from the various use cases for collecting personal information, which has led to a non-uniform boundary between personal data and privacy. Evaluating privacy in a context depends on the particular application analysis and the specific needs of the users, as characterized by research conducted by Laufer and Wolfe in 1977.
Online advertising and privacy security
A revolution is taking place in digital media, largely caused by new concerns about privacy. Online advertising is a major source of revenue for online businesses and is critical to the development of the Internet ecosystem (Haddadi et al., 2011). In the complex online advertising ecosystem, digital advertising understands the needs of advertisers and tracks user behavior based on extensive database analysis to ultimately determine which publishers (i.e., websites or mobile apps) are appropriate to display advertisers’ ads and which ads to show to which specific users. In this case, user information is easily at risk of being sold (Boshrooyeh et al., 2018). Research shows that the vast majority of users say they do not trust online companies to keep their privacy secure (Flew, 2021).
In the context of a networked world, concerns around privacy have become even more important given the vast amount of information that can be accessed, the trade-off between protecting the privacy and free access to existing online services, and the potential for commercial entities and government agencies to use “big data” to conduct personal checks without obtaining informed consent from users. The right to privacy is not an absolute human right, but a human right based on a specific social and legal context (Flew, 2021). Many Internet companies require users to provide personal information as a condition for accessing various online products and services, as well as content aggregators such as search engines and social media platforms to resell this data to third parties (Flew, 2021). These types of actions are examples of how digital advertising is violating users’ privacy and security. The salient aspect to consider is that the data utilized is often not directly supplied by the user to the provider of the digital product or service, due to privacy laws providing inadequate protection. Rather, such data commonly takes the form of de-identified or pseudo-anonymized data, as well as aggregated data that can be repurposed independent of the specific product or service being offered (Nissenbaum, 2015).
WeChat moments advertising
WeChat, as a national social platform with 1.2 billion monthly activities, has unlimited potential in private marketing, and its powerful private domain traffic also supports a variety of ways to play private domain marketing. As the traffic cost of major platforms is getting higher and higher, the customer acquisition cost of brands is also growing, more and more brands start to use private domain operation as a way to reach users anytime and anywhere, precipitate private domain traffic, transform “traffic” into “retention”, and bring new incremental space for brands to bring new incremental space and maintain good growth momentum (Wang & Gu, 2016). Therefore, one of the most important roles for brands in private marketing is WeChat, and advertising in the circle of friends is also an important means to precipitate private traffic.
At present, WeChat is the leading social networking platform in China, and as a result, holds a significant amount of users’ private data, including demographic information such as gender, age, and place of residence. There are concerns among the public about WeChat’s commercialization practices, which rely heavily on such private data. In 2020, the Shanghai Consumer Protection Commission criticized WeChat’s friend circle ads for several reasons, including the inability to disable them and the complicated process involved in setting up personalized ad recommendations (Eastern Vision, 2020). A notable number of WeChat users have expressed their disinterest in the Moments advertisements and wish to disable them. However, the process to do so is perceived as inconvenient and taxing as it currently spans across nine pages with no option for permanent closure, but only for a limited period of six months (Klout, 2022). Additionally, the quality of WeChat’s circle of friends advertisements, exhibits a mixed bag of high-quality and reputable advertisements and low-quality clutter and false promotions. This has led to a decline in audience engagement with WeChat’s advertisement offerings.
In response to inquiries, WeChat officials have stated that the gathering and utilization of advertising push and personal information from users within WeChat’s circle of friends have been approved by users. However, it is worth questioning whether such consent accurately reflects user intentions. Users have no authority to modify the terms and conditions and must either accept or decline the use of WeChat Friend Circle, or even the WeChat application as a whole. Yet, in the current social landscape, abstaining from WeChat would mean relinquishing a crucial means of communication with the majority of friends and family, as WeChat serves as a ubiquitous real-time chat tool in China (Wang et al., 2018). Alternatively, is there a superior substitute to WeChat?
It is imperative to strike a balance between WeChat’s commercial interests and safeguarding users’ privacy, given that the app has access to a vast amount of user data, such as interests, preferences, chats, videos, and other activities. This information is often utilized by WeChat for profit-making by allowing advertising companies to utilize it as a tool. This can be a worrisome prospect for users.
In today’s digital age, data plays a critical role as a strategic asset for businesses (Ahlstrom, 2019). Furthermore, enhancing the efficiency of data-driven marketing has emerged as a widely acknowledged priority across various industries. As a distinctively commercial initiative rather than a free public-oriented one, commercialization of WeChat platform is deemed to be an inevitable occurrence. However, the ever-increasing concern over data security and safeguarding user information has surfaced as a challenge. As a result, there is a heightened demand from the government, industry associations, and users for robust privacy protection and greater attention to data security. These developments present new challenges for the digital advertising sector.
Undoubtedly, precise big data advertising has brought about significant convenience to online users. By implementing big data technology on Internet and mobile Internet platforms, it becomes possible to comprehensively record and track target consumers’ behavioral trajectories, facilitating data mining and correlation analysis to enable precise targeting of consumers. As an Internet user, sharing my pet’s daily routine with friends on WeChat may result in targeted advertisements for relevant pet food products. This undoubtedly serves as a highly accurate means of delivering tailored advertising.
In order to effectively implement precision advertising through the use of big data technology, it is critical to address the challenge of balancing precise placement with audience privacy. Precise advertising depends on meeting the unique needs of individual consumers, which can only be achieved through a thorough analysis of multiple data sets. The more comprehensive and in-depth the core data of the audience, the better the match between the message and the audience, and the higher the likelihood of product adoption. However, this level of understanding requires access to personal privacy information, which raises valid concerns regarding privacy and security. Upon receiving recommendations for pet food from my social circle via WeChat, I experience a sense of contentment while simultaneously harboring apprehension regarding the potential utilization of my chat messages for commercial means by the service. In essence, it feels as though I am publicly exposed without any discernible protection whilst navigating the digital realm. As such, it is important to strike a balance between precision and privacy in order to mitigate potential conflicts and ensure effective communication through precision advertising.
In order to ensure the orderly and legitimate operation of online advertising, it is essential that relevant government departments remain vigilant of the regulation problems in this area. It is imperative that experiences are continually shared, and that the market access system for the main body of online advertising is improved upon. Furthermore, effective measures must be taken to promptly discontinue any irregular market behaviors found, while increasing supervision and regularly rectifying the big data market.
When it comes to protecting the privacy of online audiences, it is incumbent upon internet companies to safeguard their private information from any form of unlawful exploitation. Given the dynamic nature of the online environment, it is vital to constantly optimize user-label classification algorithms, which include age, gender, and spending power indicators. In doing so, the accuracy of the audience targeting is maintained without compromising the privacy of any sensitive or confidential data (OVIC, 2022).
Individual users are also responsible for safeguarding their private information. It is important to exercise caution in uploading any personal or confidential files, to clear browsing history regularly, and to stay vigilant against unethical activity or those who seek to exploit their data.
The Internet business model heavily depends on advertising as a means to generate revenue. However, the digital advertising industry is currently experiencing a drop in revenue and grappling with serious privacy issues worldwide. Consequently, the future prospects of digital advertising are still in a state of flux. It is becoming increasingly apparent that privacy compliance is a fundamental requirement, and may even evolve into a core competency of businesses. To establish and maintain user trust, companies must prioritize transparency and adhere to privacy regulations. Effective utilization of consumer data, adopting legal compliance measures, and implementing of innovative marketing strategies is the need of the hour to stay ahead of the competition in this ever-changing landscape.
Ahlstrom, R. (2019, January 17). Council post: The role of data in the age of Digital Transformation. Forbes. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2019/01/17/the-role-of-data-in-the-age-of-digital-transformation/?sh=1ab547dc4509
Boshrooyeh, S. T., Kupcu, A., & Ozkasap, O. (2018). PPAD: Privacy Preserving Group-based advertising in online social networks. 2018 IFIP Networking Conference (IFIP Networking) and Workshops. https://doi.org/10.23919/ifipnetworking.2018.8696817
Eastern vision, C. (2020, December 16). Wechat circle of friends advertising was officially named. Sinany kind. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://zx.sina.cn/2020-12-16/zx-iiznezxs7292134.d.html?wm=3049_0015
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Klout, T. (2022). WeChat Moments advertising, really can be turn off? Mad men. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.socialmarketings.com/articldetails/16916
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