read the course files first before attempting the questions ?4-1 In-class Activity Q1. Describe one or two advertisements that you recently saw/heard.?(100 words) Q

read the course files first before attempting the questions
 4-1 In-class Activity

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Q1. Describe one or two advertisements that you recently saw/heard. (100 words)
Q2. Do you think that the ad(s) was manipulative? Why or why not?  (100 words)
 4-3 in-class activity
Q1. Do you agree with Susser, Roessler, and Nissenbaum that online manipulation is harmful, regardless of its outcomes? In other words, do you think that online manipulation can be fundamentally not harmful/good? (200 words)
Q2. Susser et al. suggest four potential ways to mitigate the harm of online manipulation: (1) Curtailing digital surveilance, (2) Problematising personalization, (3) Promoting awareness and understanding, and (4) Attending to context. What could be another way to mitigate the harm of online manipulation? Is there any solution from Susser et al. you’d like to criticize? Freely discuss & share what you think about these solutions.  (300 words)

Business Ethics Summer 2022 (1) Week 4, Lecture 2
Chaeyoung Paek

In today’s class…
We’ll look at what Cathy O’Neil says about online advertising; her primary example is online ads for for-profit universities.

There will be no in-class activity for today’s lecture.

What is so wrong with the for-profit university advertising?
“For-profit university”, Vox video:

ABC news on for-profit university predatory marketing strategy:

Frontline on “get to their pain” marketing strategy:

Online Advertising
Arrington’s defense of advertising techniques applies to the “traditional” means of advertising: TV commercials, posters, etc..
In “Propaganda Machine,” Cathy O’Neil points out that online advertising, in its attempt to be as effective as possible, manipulate the audience in a unique way.
All advertisements make use of some information about the audience; what is unique is how online advertising can be personalized for each potential customer & can do so in a great scale.

Targeted Online Advertising
Targeted advertising: a form of online advertising that focuses on specific traits, interests, or preferences of each customer, based on the data on one’s online activities.
(ex) Online ad banners / Facebook ads
Based on her experience as a data scientist, Cathy O’Neil argues that targeted advertising is predatory practice.
Her argument is based on the amount of information targeted online advertising uses & how it uses that information.

Case Study: For-profit Universities
O’Neil’s primary example of targeted online advertising is online ads for for-profit universities.
Here’s how their advertising strategy works:
The marketing team at a for-profit university pays platforms such as Facebook or Google to run its ads to a very specific group of people.
Online platforms gather a lot of personal information just by tracking each user’s online activities; their financial situation, their behavior patterns, their medical/relationship history, etc..
For-profit universities look for people who meet specific conditions: people who live in the poorest zip codes, people who have clicked on ads for payday loans, etc; and online platforms allow them to micro-target the specific audience.

Case Study: For-profit Universities
2) Then they run endless series of competing ads against each other to figure out which one is the most effective.
– This “A/B testing” method is used by other forms of advertisement.
But online advertising makes using this method in a giant scale easier; it also gets feedback much faster than traditional forms of advertisement.
With machine learning, the computer can “learn” the behavior patterns of numerous people based on simple instructions.

Case Study: For-profit Universities
2*) Sometimes for-profit universities use lead generation to get a list of potential students & directly reach out to them.
Lead generation is a method to create a list of potential customers, which could be sold to different firms.
(ex) The ad asking you to provide your personal info for new policy about financial aid for moms
For-profit universities also use lead generation themselves too.
(ex) The College Board is engineered to direct poor students toward for-profit universities

What makes targeted online advertising harmful?
O’Neil argues that the contents of targeted online ads are not that different from the traditional ones; they promise some imaginary benefits to the audience or only provide indirect information in their repetitive ads.
So, the problem of the targeted online ads is not that they often use puffery/indirect information transfer/subliminal advertising technique.
It seems that the problem is that they can reach so many people so easily and so effectively.

What makes targeted online advertising harmful?
How can targeted online ads reach so many people so easily and so effectively?
They use more accurate models of behavior patterns, developed by data scientists and the machine learning process.
Because targeted online ads are better at expecting who would respond to them & responding to them is easier for potential customers, they get better response rates.
(ex1) Newspaper ads for University of Phoenix:
– reach 100,000 people, 1% responds = 1,000 students
(ex2) Targeted online ads for University of Phoenix:
– reach 1,000,000 people, 2% responds = 20,000 students
(O’Neil) Targeted online ads could end up harming so many people, when the advertised product is harmful.

Cathy O’Neil concludes that targeted online advertising (a) is predatory in many cases and (b) has the potential of harming so many people’s lives when the advertised product turns out to be harmful.
She believes that this is a unique problem of online advertising; the traditional advertising could never use the vast amount of data and could never reach so many people.

A Question re: O’Neil
O’Neil does not explicitly argue for this, but it seems that she believes that many targeted online ads are deceptive or manipulative in a unique way.
In order to argue so, it must be shown that targeted online ads undermine one’s autonomy in a way that other forms of advertising do not; then they would be harmful because they are targeted online ads.
This is what Daniel Susser, Beate Roessler, and Helen Nissenbaum do in their article, “Technology, autonomy, and manipulation.”

For the next class…
Read Daniel Susser, Beate Roessler, and Helen Nissenbaum, “Technology, autonomy, and manipulation.”


Business Ethics Summer 2022 (1) Week 4, Lecture 3
Chaeyoung Paek

In today’s class…
We’ll look at Daniel Susser, Beate Roessler, and Helen Nissenbaum’s argument about how online advertising manipulates the audience.
There will be an in-class activity for this class.

Online Advertising & Manipulation
In “Technology, autonomy, and manipulation,” Susser, Roessler, and Nissenbaum provide their definition of online manipulation, explain the harms of online manipulation, and then provide some potential solutions.
They argue that (online) manipulation harms people in a distinctive way: it violates their autonomy.
Cf. O’Neil pointed out that targeted online ads are harmful because they can potentially harm so many people so effectively.

What is manipulation?
To manipulate A is to intentionally and covertly influence A’s decision-making, by targeting and exploiting their decision-making vulnerabilities.
(ex) Making your significant other drive for you + Crying
Manipulation is hidden influence; it should be differentiated from influencing others’ decision-making processes explicitly.

What is manipulation?
Two forthright forms of influence:
Persuasion: To persuade A is to attempt to influence A by offering reasons that A can think and evaluate.
(ex) Making your significant other drive for you + Explain why they should drive
2. Coercion: To coerce A to X is to influence A by constraining A’s options so that only rational option for A would be to X.
(ex) Making your significant other drive for you + Gun to their head

What is manipulation?
The distinct harm of manipulation is that it violates our capacity for self-authorship.
It undermines our ability and right to determine how and why we ought to live.
Explicitly influencing others’ decision-making processes does not harm people in this way.
(ex) Coercion: harmful as well, but does not undermine one’s self-authorship.
Cf. Deception, in this sense, is a special kind of manipulation.
To deceive A is to covertly influence A by planting false beliefs.

What is manipulation?
Influencing someone to X is not always bad by itself; for instance, not all cases of “nudging” are manipulative.
(Thaler & Sunstein) To nudge A is to intentionally alter A’s decision-making context (their “choice architecture”) in order to influence A’s decision-making outcome.
(ex) Placing healthier foods at eye level and less healthy foods below or above
Some cases of nudging intend to correct cognitive biases & not so covert; these are not cases of manipulation.
(ex) Adding nutritional labels on grocery items

Online Manipulation
Online manipulation = the use of information technology to covertly influence another person’s decision-making, by targeting and exploiting decision-making vulnerabilities.
Online manipulation often make use of cognitive biases and individual-specific vulnerabilities.
Cognitive bias: common, systematic errors in human reasoning
(ex) Anchoring, confirmation bias, framing effects

Online Manipulation
Online manipulation often make use of cognitive biases and individual-specific vulnerabilities.
Digital platforms detect and read each user’s behavior pattern; then they configure themselves with that information to continue to learn about them.
(ex) Facebook strategy document about the ability to detect when teenage users are feeling insecure
By using cognitive biases and individual-specific vulnerabilities, advertisers on online platforms can manipulate the users very effectively.

The Harm of Online Manipulation
Q. But as the authors admit, not all cases of influencing other people are harmful; so what’s so wrong about online manipulation?
It violates its target’s autonomy.
Autonomy = an individual’s capacity to make meaningfully independent decisions.
(ex) What you’ll do after you graduate UMass
(Susser et al.) Autonomy is the foundation of liberal democratic societies; without autonomy, we cannot value our capacity to collectively self-govern.

The Harm of Online Manipulation
2 ways that online manipulation violates autonomy:
It can lead people to act toward ends they haven’t chosen; and
It can lead people to act for reasons not authentically their own.

The Harm of Online Manipulation
Online manipulation can lead people to act toward ends they haven’t chosen.
In online ads, advertisers can construct decision-making environments that work for them, not for the audience.
(ex) Countdown clocks/Promoting new, expensive items first
All ads do this to some extent; but online ads can be really covert in making the customers forget their own purposes.

The Harm of Online Manipulation
2. Online manipulation can lead people to act for reasons not authentically their own.
Many online ads are on social networking platforms.
This has the effect of making the platform users conflate the reason why they want certain things.
(ex) Chat about what to eat + restaurant ad
Native advertising also intends to covertly deceive the audience; they might think that they’re reading honest reviews and making rational choices, but their reasoning is not really based on honest reviews!

The Harm of Online Manipulation
By violating autonomy in these two ways, online manipulation…
threatens our competency to deliberate about our options, form intentions about them, and act on the basis of those intentions; and
challenges our capacity to reflect on and endorse our reasons for acting as authentically on our own.
threatens democracy as well.

The Harm of Online Manipulation
Q. But maybe there could be “good online manipulation”; perhaps online ads could target and manipulate people with unhealthy lifestyle to change their behaviors. What’s the harm in that?
Even though manipulation may help its target achieve their own goal, manipulation is still harmful.
The fundamental harm of manipulation is to the process of decision-making, not its outcomes.
What makes A to do X should be transparent to A; if A is manipulated into doing X, then A ends up being alienated from their own action and reasoning.

Potential Solutions
Q. If online manipulation is that harmful, what should we do to mitigate its harm?
Curtail digital surveillance.
Enormous data, which is made available by digital surveillance, is what makes online manipulation possible.
So, curtailing digital surveillance would cut online manipulation by its source.
(ex) Federal privacy protection legislation

Potential Solutions
2. Problematise personalization.
Data collectors (big online platforms, e.g., Facebook, Google, etc.) often argue that they need to gather a lot of information in order to personalize their services to each user.
But it’s clear that personalization does more harm than good.
(ex) Dynamic pricing
We should be more aware that personalization could be harmful & reject lazy arguments based on the benefits of personalization.

Potential Solutions
3. Promote awareness and understanding.
Since the most harmful aspect of manipulation is that it is covert, increased awareness is the key to the solution.
For instance, simply notifying people about how they gather and use private information by sending the privacy notice is not enough.
We should demand that online platforms make their decision-process more explainable, transparent, and accountable.

Potential Solutions
4. Attend to context.
But we should keep in mind that what counts as manipulation and how harmful we find each case of manipulation depends on social contexts.
For instance, it would be not effective to demand all countries to take the exact same measures against online platforms.
And even in one society, online manipulation regarding certain issues may be treated differently than the others.
(ex) Political issues vs. Local restaurant pop-up ads

Exercise: Some remaining thoughts
Go to the course Blackboard page and click “4-3 In-class Activity” under the lecture video.
Click “Create thread” and fill in your answers; click “submit” at the end.
This should take about 5-7 minutes; come back to the lecture video after you submit your response.
Since this activity take place on a discussion forum, you’ll be able to see others’ responses & comment on them. (No need to comment on others’ responses if you don’t want to.)

For the next class…
We’ll keep talking about advertising and whether advertising really manipulate us for the first lecture of Week 5.
Then we’ll move on to a new topic: exploitation and the ethics of sweatshop labor.
For the next class, read Andrew Johnson, “A New Take on Deceptive Advertising” (Skip section III; some parts of section IV omitted).


Business Ethics Summer 2022 (1) Week 4, Lecture 1
Chaeyoung Paek

In Week 4…
In Week 3, we discussed whether there should be some ethical limitations on what money can buy.
Both Sandel & Anderson argue that there should be such limitations on the market.
They claim that commodifying certain kinds of things—shared goods/political goods—could de-value and de-grade these goods & the values they have.
Based on the in-class activity responses, it seems like many of us agree that there should be some limitations on what money can buy!
(ex) Female hygiene products/children/education

In Week 4…
But even for things that could be commodified, maybe there should be some ethical limitations (or regulations based on ethical consideration) on how you sell these things.
In Week 4 – 5, we’ll talk about this new topic: do some advertising techniques manipulate and invade privacy of customers? Can using such techniques be justified?
We’ll see Arrington’s defense of certain advertising techniques that may seem manipulative;
Then we’ll see how O’Neil and Susser et al. criticize contemporary advertising techniques.

In today’s class…
We’ll look at Robert Arrington’s defense of advertising techniques that are often criticized of being manipulative.

There will be an in-class activity right after this slide.

Exercise: Advertising Techiniques
Click ”4-1 In-class Activity” below the lecture video.
Click “Write Submission”; fill in your answers & click “Submit.”

This should take about 5 minutes, but feel free to take more/less time as needed.

Advertising Techniques
Advertisements intend to persuade potential customers to buy the advertised products.
To achieve the intended goal, many advertising companies use techniques developed based on the research about human mind.
In “Advertising and Behavior Control,” Arrington discusses three of such techniques:
Indirect information transfer
Subliminal advertising.

Puffery = the practice by a seller of making exaggerated, highly fanciful or suggestive claims about a product or service

Puffery is based on motivational research; advertising firms identify our hidden needs and desires, then design ads that respond to these needs and desires.
Cf. Puffery vs. Deceptive advertising
Levitt’s defense of puffery
The very purpose of advertising is “to influence the audience by creating illusions, symbols, and implications that promise more than pure functionality.”
Puffery is not deceptive in nature; it serves advertising’s true purpose!

Indirect Information Transfer
Some advertising companies use another technique to affect the viewers: they make ads that do not really provide any info about the product, but simply run the same ads repeatedly.
(ex) “It’s a Tide ad!”
This repetitive advertising strategy is called indirect information transfer; it does not offer any direct information about the product, but only indirect information.
(ex) New iPhone commercial on Youtube
Nelson’s defense of indirect information transfer
– The very fact that (a) the same brand can run their ads repeatedly shows how well the brand is doing and that (b) what they sell would be a better buy for the consumers.

Subliminal Advertising
Subliminal advertising uses subliminal suggestion to persuade the audience to act in a certain way or to buy certain products.
(ex) Department store background music + ads
Arrington’s defense of subliminal advertising
Subliminal advertising do not “invent” new desires or needs; it simply triggers the desires/needs that were already there.

Against Advertising
Braybrooke’s argument against advertising:
P1. Advertising techniques, such as puffery, indirect information transfer, or subliminal advertising, undermine the consumers’ autonomy.
P2. If some advertising techniques undermine an agent’s autonomy, they must be banned or regulated.
C. Advertising techniques, such as puffery, indirect information transfer, or subliminal advertising, must be banned or regulated.
Q. Why does Braybrooke think that (P1) must be true?
A. Braybrooke points out that these advertising techniques do not simply provide information about the product; they create desires and make the audience have and act on that artificial desire.

Against Advertising
Arrington on Braybrooke:
Braybrooke’s argument is valid; but it may not be sound.
To show whether (P1) is actually true or not, we need to see what it means for something to undermine one’s autonomy.
If we properly understand what it means for something to undermine one’s autonomy, we would see that advertising does not undermine anyone’s autonomy; it simply influence how the audience behaves.

Autonomy & Advertising
What is autonomy? What does it mean that one makes an autonomous decision?
– (Arrington) 4 potential answers:
To be autonomous is to have autonomous desires.
To be autonomous is to have rational desires and make choices based on them.
To be autonomous is to be able to make free choices.
To be autonomous is to be free of control or manipulation.
Arrington argues that advertising does not undermine autonomy in any of these senses.

Advertising & Autonomous Desire
Q1. Does advertising undermine one’s ability to have and act on autonomous desires?
(Arrington) Culturally induced desires are still autonomous desires.
(ex) The desire for music/art/knowledge
The desires induced by advertisements are culturally induced desires.
A’s desire to X is autonomous if and only if A has the desire to maintain and fulfill the desire to X.
(ex) A desire based on momentary madness
Most desires created by ads are actually autonomous based on this definition!

Advertising & Rational Desires
Q2. Does advertising undermine one’s ability to have rational desires and make choices based on them?
It is hard to distinguish rational desires from irrational ones.
So, it is hard to say whether advertising, or anything, undermines one’s ability to have rational desires; we don’t know what rational desires are!
Q. But when you decide to purchase something based on puffery, you’re buying it because of some imaginary benefits of that product; that’s irrational desire & choice!
Arrington: In many cases, what customers look for when they purchase the advertised product is the subjective effect.
(ex) Luxury car + other people’s compliments
It is rational to seek such subjective effects to be brought about by purchasing certain items!

Advertising & Free Choices
Q3. Does advertising undermine one’s ability to make free choices?
(Arrington) When A acts on the desire to X with a reason, A’s action is based on A’s free choice.
Sometimes, ads do undermine one’s ability to make free choices in this sense.
(ex) Taco Bell ad + sudden craving
But sometimes, ads don’t undermine the ability to make free choices; they simply trigger the desires + the reasons that were there already.

Advertising & Control or Manipulation
Q4. Does advertising undermine one’s freedom from control or manipulation?
(Arrington) To see whether this is the case, we need to first understand what it means for one to be controlled.
A person, A, controls the behavior of another person, B, if and only if
A intends B to act in a certain way, X;
A’s intention is causally effective in bringing about X; and
A intends to ensure that all of the necessary conditions of X are satisfied.
(ex) You + Younger sibling + Cleaning up the mess

Advertising & Control or Manipulation
If the ads are really controlling the audience’s behavior, then the ads should not only intend that a lot of people would buy the advertised products; they should also intend to make sure that the necessary conditions for people buying the advertised products are satisfied.
(ex) Luxury car + {The need & desire for a new car & money}
(Arrington) This doesn’t seem to be the case; ads merely influence the audience.

Arrington concludes that Baybrooke’s argument against advertising techniques is not sound.
He argues that (P1) of his argument is not true.
There are 4 ways to understand how advertising could undermine one’s autonomy, and advertising does not actually undermine one’s autonomy in any way.

For the next class…
Read Cathy O’Neil, “Propaganda Machine.”

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