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Third party data in the spotlight

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The recent investigations into data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, have provoked widespread discussion over the use of data, and more recently third party data.

The firm’s alleged involvement influencing elections in both the USA and UK has added fuel to the fire, leading to calls for more accountability and transparency on Facebook and how the company collects and shares information.

Before Easter, Facebook announced that it was closing down its Partner Categories feature where it partnered with third party data companies – including Acxiom, Epsilon, Experian and Oracle – in a move it claims is to protect its users’ personal privacy.

Graham Mudd, a product marketing director at Facebook, said: “We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook.

“While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”

Following on from this the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said: “I welcome Facebook’s announcement that it will be shutting down its partner category service, using third party data to inform targeted advertising. I have been examining this service in the context of my wider investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes and had raised it with Facebook as a significant area of concern. The use of third party sources of data will be covered in more detail in the report my office will publish soon."

The comment addressed the third party data industry directly and alluded to an on-going Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation into the sector.

This caused alarm in the third party data sector and many marketers were left wondering whether the use of third party data would be permitted at all, given the tone of the ICO comments.

However, the ICO has confirmed to the DMA that their announcement was about the need for greater transparency around the use of third party data, rather than a total ban.

The ICO have published very little guidance for marketers as to how they can buy, share and use third party data under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Recent events, show how important it is that the ICO addresses the concerns of the third party data industry.

Ultimately, data is at the heart of modern society, allowing for businesses and consumers to benefit from new technology and services. Third party data is a key element of the modern data economy and its use benefits consumers.

Without third party data, organisations would find it harder to personalise their marketing messages and keep their databases accurate and up-to-date. Although, organisations must always be transparent with people over how their personal data will be processed.

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