What we can learn about data from Cambridge Analytica | DMA

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What we can learn about data from Cambridge Analytica


That was the headline in one of the national newspapers this week following the ongoing scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Of course, this was really the tip of the iceberg in terms of ‘dirty tricks’. The starting point is the allegation that Cambridge Analytica obtained the Facebook data of 50 million Americans without their consent to create profiles for use during the US elections. The firm’s own website highlights how they use ‘’data to change audience behaviour.’’

Ultimately, as marketers that’s what we all use data for. Data is no longer the result of our activity, it’s what drives and optimises everything we do. Indeed, the business success stories of today are fuelled by data: Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Google and Tesla are all using data to disrupt their marketplaces.

In our own way we are using data. Enabling clients to stay one step of the competition, for example, answering the question of where’s the best location for my next retail investment? As well as their customers, for instance, reminding them to book a holiday.

Data is everywhere. We collect it via email sign up pages, preference centres, surveys, purchases, social interactions. In fact, the closer a customer gets to us the more valuable the data becomes. Demographic data is trumped by profile data, which in turn is bettered by behavioural, transactional and contextual data. In fact, it’s akin to the information you hold as you get to know a friend or a loved one. The general physical attributes of someone when you first meet them is bolstered with their likes, dislikes, secrets and perhaps even their PIN number (although I’m still working on that one with my wife).

And as with all valuables, there’s a reason why they are of value and why we should go the extra mile to protect them. In particular where in effect those valuables have been entrusted to us. And that’s what happens with customer data. Customers give us data in exchange for something. An email address because they value the content we might give them; a physical address because they want us to deliver something; a credit card number because they want that health cover.

We have to be transparent with individuals about what we want that data for and how we plan to use it. And as it’s the customer’s data they might want it back or in reality have it deleted. In the case of Cambridge Analytica, it appears that they’ve been holding onto the data they harvested since 2015. So they haven’t destroyed the data they shouldn’t have had in the first place.

Now at this point I’m bound to mention GDPR (and if you haven’t heard about GDPR by now, please drop me an email). The new regulations come into force in May and are being put in place to tackle this need for transparency. Talking of which, Facebook didn’t own up to the data breach because they ‘didn’t have to.’ Let’s be frank about this. This need for transparency is because of a lack of trust. Transparency doesn’t create trust. It’s there to counter a lack of trust. Unwise and unethical use of data by some organisations has tainted the whole data-driven marketing industry. GDPR is an opportunity to be whiter than whiter with customers. To paraphrase both Sir Francis Bacon and Spiderman / Peter Parker :

Data is power…and with power comes responsibility

This piece was first published on the Intermarketing website

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