ethical AI

Ethical AI: Balancing Business Innovation and Consumer Trust

RJ Licata, Sr. Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • As AI explodes, the world’s largest and most influential brands are investing in building and maturing AI capabilities to drive business outcomes.
  • For leading brands navigating both the opportunities and risks AI poses, balancing innovation with ethics is crucial.
  • To maintain consumer trust, brands should take a custom and consumer-focused approach to defining their AI policies and ethics standards.

The surge in artificial intelligence (AI) adoption has propelled businesses into a new era of innovation, with Fortune 500 companies at the forefront of this transformative wave.

In fact, a recent KPMG survey of Fortune 500 companies found that companies that have invested the most in maturing their AI capabilities are spending an average of $75 million on talent alone.

At the same time, only 17 percent of companies have been able to scale their capabilities and have stated this as a key business objective over the next three years.

For the interdependent worlds of business and marketing, this is a call to renew a focus on how to approach AI innovation responsibly. AI innovation can encompass anything from adopting AI tools for content creation and marketing, building proprietary AI products, or using AI to connect consumers to your product in new ways.

As AI becomes more ubiquitous, so do the ethical challenges and risks associated with its application. And with today’s ever-empowered and discerning consumers wielding unprecedented influence, finding a balance between ethical AI practices and business innovation is key.

Defining AI ethics

AI ethics involves establishing guidelines for the responsible usage and development of AI technologies. At a high level, it encompasses principles ensuring that AI applications align with moral, legal, and societal standards.

For instance, responsible AI tech usage involves implementing systems and algorithms that are fair, unbiased, and respectful of privacy.

In a business and marketing context, ethical AI becomes a necessity. It serves as a compass to prevent misuse and mitigate potential risks. Companies that incorporate ethical AI practices distinguish themselves as responsible entities, building trust among consumers and stakeholders alike.

Ideally, all AI endeavors should be guided by a universal framework that transcends industries and reflects a shared moral compass.

But what does that look like in the real world?

Why ethical AI matters in business and marketing

As well as being a moral imperative, ethical AI is essential for maximizing the value of AI technologies from a global business standpoint. The consequences of ethical lapses extend beyond PR nightmares to also include product failures, legal entanglements, and lasting damage to a brand’s reputation.

In the age of reception marketing, where consumers are more empowered than ever and brand trust is paramount, ethical AI practices that reflect consumer desires and expectations become non-negotiable when building or adopting AI systems.

For example, when it comes to AI, studies show that consumers notice and care when brands do or don’t engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Brands themselves can also bring greater value to these empowered consumers by committing to practices that improve the quality of the Internet as a whole rather than continuing to adopt or build systems that lead to unoriginal, unhelpful, transaction-focused content.

In this way, AI innovation — and any other business and marketing policy or practice, for that matter — can lead to greater economic impact.

AI ethics in practice

Beyond recognizing the significance of ethical AI, brands will also have to determine how to establish their own boundaries and implement scalable practices.

Broadly speaking, AI governance refers to the framework, policies, and practices put in place to ensure responsible and ethical development, deployment, and use of AI systems. 

Establishing AI ethics standards involves defining guidelines, standards, and oversight mechanisms to address various aspects of AI, including data privacy, transparency, fairness, and security. In practice, this can look like:

  • Transparency: Clearly communicating how AI is utilized builds trust with consumers.
  • Bias: Striving for fairness and impartiality in AI algorithms to avoid perpetuating existing biases.
  • Privacy and property rights: Safeguarding consumer data, respecting privacy boundaries, and protecting intellectual property rights to maintain trust.
  • Quality and accuracy: Rigorous testing to ensure AI systems pose no risk to individuals or their environments.
  • Regulations: Adhering to local, state, and federal regulations governing AI applications to avoid lawsuits and negative brand perception.

By documenting and consistently implementing standard practices across their organization, brands not only ensure the highest ethical standards but also foster the organic and responsible evolution of different AI applications.

Developing standards for ethical AI innovation

As mentioned earlier, a universal code of ethics or framework aims to transcend industry boundaries, providing a shared set of values that should underpin all technology and AI innovation. 

While universality across all industries may be unrealistic, today’s era of reception marketing calls for a consumer-centric approach to developing ethical standards for AI. Brands should customize and align their AI practices to reflect their target consumer’s values, behaviors, and preferences. 

In other words, reception marketing asks brands: How do you make your product and your policies reflect what consumers are asking for?

By aligning standards of ethics with consumer expectations, AI innovation can build trust and reduce risk.

So, what do people care about today? What might an AI code of ethics framework look like in this era of the empowered consumer?

Well-being and safety

Identify and prioritize consumer concerns related to AI usage and its objectives. 

For example, Google emphasizes its dedication not only to transparency, accountability, and avoiding bias but also to making AI socially beneficial. In its AI principles, Google specifically mentions the importance of striving to enhance people’s lives.

Knowing that AI technologies can impact an individual’s well-being, brands should develop AI with clearly stated goals to not only benefit its users but also the greater digital community.

Transparency and privacy

Clearly communicate how AI is used and for what purposes. 

Microsoft, as an example, has developed and openly shared its principles for the responsible development and use of AI. They emphasize fairness, transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness. They also made their “vision for AI in the enterprise” publicly available.

Breaches that compromise user data erode consumer trust and a lack of transparency in how AI decisions are made can lead to user skepticism and suspicion. Ensuring user privacy and being transparent can encourage consumers to share more insightful data in the future, helping you to better serve them.

User autonomy

Whether AI or any other technology, brands should provide consumers with control over their data and involve them in the building process through focus groups and other feedback mechanisms.

Ensuring autonomy not only respects individuals’ rights but also fosters a sense of consumer control and further empowerment while mitigating risk to the brand. Dropbox, for example, recently broke consumer trust after opting their users into third-party AI without their knowledge or consent.

Provide users with autonomy over their data by granting them the ability to make informed decisions on the collection, processing, and utilization of their personal information. 

This collaborative approach builds a foundation of trust, as users feel respected and in control of their data, and encourages a positive and enduring relationship between businesses and their consumers.


Authenticity in AI adoption and development means including and maintaining mechanisms for human oversight. While AI can automate various processes, having humans in the loop ensures that critical decisions are made ethically and align with consumer expectations and values.

OpenAI has been at the forefront of research in artificial intelligence, and they emphasize the importance of combining the strengths of machines with human oversight. As OpenAI charts its path to market domination, its use of language models involves human reviewers who follow guidelines for rating model outputs. 

Choosing a human-in-the-loop approach aims to ensure the responsible and ethical use of AI and prevents the risks of fully automated decision-making.

By prioritizing consumer well-being and autonomy, ensuring privacy, and aligning AI practices with human values, brands fortify their position in the hearts and minds of consumers. 

AI ethics in an empowered consumer era

In this era where ethical considerations shape consumer choices, the path to long-term success is paved with a commitment to ethical innovation — an innovation that resonates with the moral compass of an empowered audience.

By embracing a consumer-centric approach, brands meet regulatory requirements and can also build lasting trust with consumers. In the AI-driven business and marketing landscape, investing in strategies that focus on listening and responding directly to today’s consumer not only provides a competitive advantage but also stands as a key testament to a brand’s commitment to ethical, consumer-driven innovation.

As businesses navigate the evolving landscape of technology and consumer expectations, this commitment serves as a guiding principle that reinforces connections and builds trust. It ensures a future where ethical considerations continue to influence and elevate the consumer experience.

AI is moving very quickly — faster than we can grasp its long-term implications. But so long as brands acknowledge that consumers are in the driver’s seat and respond accordingly in how they adopt and build AI, they position themselves as partners in building a better future for their audience and the broader digital environment we’re all a part of.

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