Google and Internet Privacy (a)
16 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2009
Based on their use of a shared computer and the Internet ads that keep popping up, two co-workers suspect that another co-worker is HIV-positive or has AIDS. Using this story platform, the case explores Internet marketing, especially the powerhouse search engine Google and how it tracks its users' habits. The history of Google is chronicled, as well as the privacy issues that have mushroomed as the Internet and its technology have developed.
Rev. Jan. 20, 2010
GOOGLE AND INTERNET PRIVACY (A)
Privacy is the right to be left alone—the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by free people.
—Justice Louis Brandeis, Olmstead v. U.S. (1928)
Ken Winber sat in his office, staring at the computer. What trouble computers in general caused, he thought. Head of Human Resources at an East Coast bank, he was old enough to remember IBM Selectrics and while he welcomed the efficiency and speed that technology and computers brought to the workplace, he sometimes resented the problems that had emerged with them. His immediate dilemma involved two employees, Andy Richards and Nancy Woodhouse, who had just left his office. They had found some intrusive and potentially disturbing internet pop-ups on a shared office computer and had met with Winber to tell him. Winber thought back to his conversation.
Andy Richards was a full-time customer service representative for the bank who worked the night shift; Nancy Woodhouse, who worked the day shift, was a forty-something mother of three. Richards had recounted a recent night when he had been working on his computer, shared by several part-time employees during the day. Almost immediately after turning on his computer and launching his browser, an ad for a drug called Aptivus popped up on his computer screen. He did not pay much attention to the ad and quickly clicked the “close” button. A few minutes later, another pop-up for yet another drug, appeared. Before closing this pop-up, Richards realized that this drug, Selzentry, was some new HIV/AIDS medication.
When a pop-up for Reyataz appeared a few minutes later imploring Richards to “Fight HIV Your Way,” he realized something unusual was happening. Although not a marketer, he was familiar with how Internet advertising worked. When someone visited a Web site, a “cookie” sent from the server of an interested marketing firm was often attached to the browser and used to track an Internet user as he or she moved from site to site. The user's site preferences were then compiled so that the user would receive advertising messages, often in the form of pop-ups, tailored to his or her interests.
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Keywords: stakeholder management, ethical issues, business ethics, technology, privacy, internet marketing
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