Rethinking Boundaries of Privacy: A threshold against precise marketing and digital neo-colonialism



This paper is an attempt to develop a possible threshold to distinguish between the increasingly overlapping domains of precision marketing and privacy studies. In a context where online marketing efforts draw regularly from repositories of big data and specifically mine data about customers, this paper argues that such activities can no longer be garbed as ‘precision marketing’ (as done in the field of management studies) but is in fact, a more precise targeting exercise that may violate privacy.

We build on existing understanding where most online service providers rely on users’ data in order to provide a more personalized experience, to argue that this data is often used akin to a ‘dual nature product’ (Picard, 2005) and becomes of transactional value to other businesses. We therefore argue that in a country like India where most users of online platforms become members without understanding the multifaceted dimensions of the act of joining and thus the inherent cost, this creates a new kind of digital divide and lays the foundation for a digital neo-colonialism : One that resides in both the architecture and the system that governs internet experience as a whole today.

This paper suggests that it is essential to initiate a conversation about the various strategies used to target customers, and around the creation of a metaphorical threshold that could help regulate indiscriminate usage of users’ personal data. By adopting a mixed methods approach which used an explanatory research design: participant selection model (Clark & Creswell, 2008); this study uses questionnaires and focus group discussions to gauge respondents’ responses to five specific scenarios of online engagement. In each of these scenarios the respondents’ willingness to share data was used to help arrive at a nuanced and more holistic understanding of the proposed threshold. The resultant threshold is then a contextually derived and situationally developed notion which could serve as a guideline and a layer of protection against a system which has become increasingly adept at delivering a useful, significant and relevant experience. An engagement that has considerably subverted the meaningful engagement for users (Selwyn, 2004) as today’s user in the global south has an extremely low degree of control in the process.

Keywords: privacy, targeted marketing, precision marketing, neo colonialism, digital divide


  1. Clark, V. L. P., & Creswell, J. W. (2008). The mixed methods reader. Sage.
  2. Picard, R. G. (2005). Unique characteristics and business dynamics of media products. Journal of media business studies, 2(2), 61-69.
  3. Selwyn, N. (2004). Reconsidering political and popular understandings of the digital divide. New media & society, 6(3), 341-362.