This article was originally published on AdExchanger, March 22, 2018.
The advertising industry often talks about trust – trust between advertisers and their agencies, trust between advertisers and media owners. But very little is publicly said about the trust placed by the public in the advertising industry.
Individuals and the public at large have a right to demand and expect that advertisers, agencies, media and platform owners will treat them with respect. In digital, with the wealth of data available to marketers and the pressure to squeeze every last ounce of efficiency out of media dollars, there are always a myriad of companies offering new data sets.
Companies are offering agencies new data all the time but as industry players, we are increasingly saying no because the way the data is obtained or used doesn’t sit well with our values and principles. As a result, these companies (often) quickly disappear. Data collected without clear permission or applied in inappropriate ways has no place in the advertising or media industry.
Data-driven marketing is an important part of our industry. If performed with transparency and respect for the trust the public places in us, it has the power to not only make our industry better but help advertising fund new content, services, and tools that contribute value to society and the economy.
But if we betray the trust the public places in our industry and don’t treat the public with respect then we don’t deserve the right to use the public’s data. Zuckerberg acknowledged this in his post on Wednesday in response to the Cambridge Analytica situation: “This was a breach of trust between [Aleksandr] Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.”
Cambridge Analytica betrayed trust on many levels. Facebook was too trusting and was blindsided by how sophisticated the data industry has become. The lesson that can be learned for all of us is that data, like all things that can empower so much good, can be weaponized for bad. That’s why phrases like “computational propaganda” and “weaponized data” are entering the lexicon.
As an industry, we risk letting these negative terms become the brand for data-driven marketing unless we collectively stand up and say that Cambridge Analytica’s behavior is unacceptable and has no place in marketing and advertising. Cambridge Analytica does not represent the advertising industry. Its behavior and companies that behave similarly have no place in this industry.
What the coming weeks and months should remind us all is that, as an industry, we need to always ask the tough questions about data. Where and how is it collected? Has it been obtained appropriately and with permission? Is it compliant with privacy principles? Is it legal? And, just as importantly, is it ethically and morally right to use the data in an intended way?
The line between good and bad use of data is the moral, ethical and value compass of each and every individual working in this industry.
In the end, though, it all comes back to trust. We need to ensure that when the industry talks about trust and transparency, individual consumers are included and considered as important to the trust equation as agencies and advertisers. The more we include consumers in the trust equation, the better it will be for the industry.