Facebook data scandal

“We have a responsibility to protect your personal data. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”

So says the full page adverts that Facebook purchased in UK and US national newspapers this weekend. By now, you’re probably aware that the apology follows media coverage of an investigative Channel 4 report, which demonstrated that Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company, had access to data from 50 million Facebook profiles through a ‘personality quiz’ it launched on the social media platform. It then used this information for a purpose it had not disclosed to users: driving votes in support of Donald Trump during the US presidential elections.

As this permissive attitude to data sharing becomes public knowledge, it is a massive blow to Facebook’s global brand image and has caused a sharp drop in share price, erasing $50 billion from the company’s market cap. Yet the breach also has wider repercussions for digital marketers of all sectors. Data protection is becoming an increasingly hot issue for consumers, with 67% concerned about how brands use their personal information.

So how can marketers make sure they are ‘deserving’ of their audiences’ data?

Let’s be clear, data transparency is key

Audiences are becoming more aware that they often ‘pay’ for free services like social networking, online news, and video on demand by sharing their personal information with advertisers. In many cases, this is a rewarding experience as users receive the content they want, such as television programmes, alongside personalised advertising. Overall it makes for a more relevant online experience for the user. But when things go wrong, the data sharing relationship can be damaged.

To avoid harming the trusting relationship they have with their audiences, marketers need to be completely transparent about how they use personal data. The incoming General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, states that companies should make explicit the exact purpose for which they wish to use consumer data, and do so in an easy-to-understand way. For Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, this means that people sharing data for use in a personality quiz should not have their data repurposed to analyse political leanings. For marketers, it means that when customers sign-up to an online service, such as a booking portal, then opting-in to additional marketing communications, such as the company newsletter, must be an additional choice.

All good relationships start with consent

Once marketers have clearly explained how they would like to use audience data, they should then ask for permission to do so. Had Cambridge Analytica asked its app users if they wished to share their data for use in a political campaign, some may have said yes, and those who objected would have excluded themselves from the process, saving the company from the harmful publicity which followed.

Just like offline communications, there is an art of asking people for the use of their information. The GDPR says marketers should not ask consumers to use their information in an ‘all or nothing’ manner. This means avoiding the ‘highwayman’ approach of providing people with more than a yes/no choice, or the surrender of ‘your privacy or our service’. Marketers will need to allow multiple consent options so they can agree to different aspects of their information being shared, and importantly, know that they cannot withdraw a service if a person chooses not to share their information.

Marketers who already value genuine relationships with their customers will notice there is a serious advantage here. By encouraging customers to say how exactly they would like to be contacted, and in what circumstances, they can use this information to create more effective campaigns that their audiences will pay attention to. And when audiences realise that marketers will take their privacy seriously, they are more likely to be willing to share better quality information, responding to marketers’ integrity by being honest when sharing their own information.

Corralling third-party technology

To be transparent with users, marketers need to make sure they fully understand how data is being used throughout their operations. Key to Facebook’s data privacy challenges was the relationship the platform and its users had with its third-party apps. Although it was Cambridge Analytica which used the information for a non-permitted purpose, Facebook has come under fire for sharing user information in the first place.

Marketers need to bear this relationship in mind when they look at their own digital supply chains. Trackers, social media widgets, analytics tools and more exist on most websites. As audiences visit their pages, marketers will need to make sure they know exactly what technologies their website uses – and even what tech these technologies themselves use. As mentioned above, they will need to be clear to their visitors about these processes and ask for consent.

Building relationships for the future

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has promised to stop apps from ‘getting so much information’, and has started limiting the amount of information their owners get when users sign up for their services.

Going forward, marketers can benefit from keeping this example top of mind, asking themselves at every juncture: ‘do I really need to receive this information, and if so, has the data subject consented?’ With this new mindset, marketers will limit the risk of damaging their brand in a context where privacy is a valid feature of the relationships they form with their audiences. They’ll form stronger, more genuine relationships with their audiences, and in return, will receive higher quality data that allows them to take their campaigns to new levels of effectiveness.

Rebecca Morgan data article  By Rebecca Morgan, Account Manager