We should all be aware of the ongoing scandal engulfing Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the allegations of data misuse.

Heads have rolled, lawsuits are being filed and mud is being slung at the highest level. As marketers responsible for taking care of people’s data, it’s left us all looking pretty dirty.

How did we get to this?

In 2014, 270,000 people participated in a quiz through an app on Facebook to learn about their digital lives; there was even a little financial remuneration to sweeten the deal.

The app harvested the quizzers’ data and, thanks to lax privacy settings, went through friend networks to glean the personal information of up to 50 million Facebook users. This was acceptable and expected practice at the time, but here’s where the fun and games end.

The data was sold to Cambridge Analytica and used to create sophisticated psychological profiles of US voters who were then targeted online with pro-Trump material in the run up to the 2016 US presidential election. That’s according to Christopher Wylie, whistle-blower and former director of research at Cambridge Analytica.
The UK firm, which at the time was headed by Trump’s key advisor, Steve Bannon, says it played a ‘pivotal role’ in putting Trump in the White House.

I’m pretty sure those quiz participants wouldn’t have imagined that their digital quiz would be used to create a rudder for global politics, and debate now rages about how data is processed by organisations around the world. This was a huge breach in user trust, and it cannot happen again.

Reputational disaster

Avoiding the eye-line of politicians and journalists on both sides of the pond, Zuckerberg has never found his Converse sneakers more interesting, but the reputational damage going on around him cannot be ignored.
After the news broke last month, the platform’s shares fell by 11.7% over two days, taking $50 billion off market value, while social media lit up with 400,000 tweets calling on us all to #deletefacebook.

The commercial consequences of this kind of mistrust were hammered home by Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever.
“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online,” Weed told attendees at the recent IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.”

“We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain – one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency,” Weed said.

Facebook is now up in lights alongside Cambridge Analytica as an example of how not to deal with consumer data.

Lessons must be learned

Data is the lifeblood of modern business, but this scandal is a cold reminder that systems of even the biggest digital players can be abused, with globally significant and highly damaging consequences.

The reality is thrown into stark relief by the GDPR which will send heavy fines out to organisations guilty of these kinds of transgressions. The Regulation’s new security standards are designed to protect the modern consumer, and to minimise the chances of a repeat of Facebook’s fiasco.

As of May 25th, recipients of our marketing messages will have to know how their data will be used through an easy-to-understand data privacy notice, followed by a clear choice to opt-in to data processing activity.
While it is not the only lawful basis for processing, this consent will underpin a more diligent culture of data handling that promotes responsible behaviour, and which puts the welfare of the data subject before that of the company.

A golden opportunity

There’s a lot of work to be done, but the journey to GDPR compliance presents an overwhelming opportunity for the good.

Ethical use of data will not only avoid fines, it will yield richer information, and deeper insight. Streamlined databases will enable us to connect with key audiences quicker, and offer a more refined and relevant customer experience.

But there’s a bigger picture. This is about accountability, transparency and trust. Nobody wants to experience the reputational ruin still being suffered by Zuckerberg’s monster, but working with the GDPR we can build a reputation that turns heads for the right reasons.

By educating ourselves as marketers, adopting ‘privacy by design’ into our systems and by prioritising GDPR compliance, we can stand out from the crowd and fly a flag for data security at a time when customers are actively seeking assurances that their personal details are safe.

The quiz may have failed us, but we can still pass the GDPR test with flying colours.


By Nick James, CEO at Amplified Business Content

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