The current situation surrounding Cambridge Analytica and Facebook over the use of potentially sensitive consumer data is substantial. Embedded in the wide-ranging commentary surrounding this incident has been a hard-hitting debate about the direction our industry must take.
We appreciate the responsible steps that Facebook has taken since the incident's revelation, and its commitment, as one of the world's leading marketing platforms, to invest in and make necessary changes to bolster consumer and marketer confidence.
But is it enough? The ANA, the world's largest voice for brands, believes this controversy highlights the industry's ongoing need to address two critical issues:
- Consumer Privacy.Privacy is, perhaps, the most fundamental and critical issue we face in communications today. Information technology has become coupled with lightning-fast knowledge transfer, and online platforms have gained an increasingly large foothold in consumers' daily lives. As such, our collective ecosystem can disappoint — and, in certain instances, it materially fails us. The current global outrage over the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data issue represents enormous frustration with institutions that fall short on promises of protection and safeguards. Unfortunately, material breaches of trust cost us in so many ways, like Europe's GDPR. The GDPR is a blunt response that may provide some degree of consumer protection. However, the cost to the free-flowing information transfer system is substantial.
- Collectively, we can do better. Our industry has a responsibility to strengthen consumers' fundamental rights to privacy. But consumers struggle to exercise those rights because it is unclear what information online data platforms have about them. More than just granting individuals' access to that information, the ecosystem needs to systematically "report back" to consumers what advertisers know and what choices consumers have to protect their privacy. Ultimately, we need to put consumers squarely in control of the information they want to share — and what they want to keep private.
- Transparency. Transparency must be our industry's cornerstone principle. Transparency must be accepted as the cost of entry for all "walled garden" platforms to engage brands. What happens in the dark shadows of those "walls" is seldom clear and understandable to consumers and advertisers. The creation of trust requires greater sunlight inside these walls — or the removal of the walls altogether. Enhanced transparency and accountability must be non-negotiable. Neither consumers nor brands are served by Walled Gardens that prevent complete transparency, accountability, and measurement.
In the wake of these revelations, we as an industry, especially online enterprises, need to commit ourselves to taking a major step forward to regain consumer and brand trust. How? By embracing the levels of transparency that have been the hallmark of traditional media platforms for decades. As marketing enterprises, we seek media that engage consumers with confidence and demonstrate the ability to measure performance while driving business growth fundamentals. Key to this premise is the ability for brands to reliably build consumer relationships without consumers fearing that privacy protocols will be violated.
Only greater transparency and accountability will help Facebook (and other online platforms) earn and regain trust. But recent developments, like Cambridge Analytica, make it clear that there is a long way to go. Greater transparency and choices that help illuminate the shadowy corners of the data and marketing worlds are of critical importance. We know that when there is trust there is greater sharing — and that without trust, there can be no sharing. The inappropriate use of information and insight means everyone — consumers, advertisers, publishers, and other stakeholders — loses.
The ANA wants brands to advertise on platforms that are safe, reach their intended consumers, and ensure brand integrity. Consumers and brands require that sensitive data be secure and, when used by third parties, be used responsibly and transparently. This is critical to earning trust from brands and consumers.
In truth, the Cambridge Analytica controversy is greater than Facebook alone. It's a brand reputation and data security risk for every ANA member that advertises and monetizes brands on online and mobile outlets. The ANA and its members need to see the continued demonstrations of good faith that Facebook has put forward in recent days. Now is the time to earn back the trust of consumers and brands. There really is no other choice.