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Parliament debate - Online marketing & data ethics

11.07.2019

Online marketing and data ethics - the way forward

By Michael Sturrock (DMA) and James Delves (CIM)

The world today runs on data. As consumers we all leave digital footprints as we go about our daily jobs via the countless internet searches we conduct and the myriad apps we use in our private lives, from ordering shopping to banking on the internet. The data generated through our digital actions is seen, recorded and analysed every day – with the aim of providing us with a better level of service.

This poses a simple question: do you trust that your data is being used ethically?

It’s been over a year since the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal broke and trust in the data and marketing industry remains low. In fact, DMA research tells us that people think marketers are less trustworthy than politicians. That, in today’s divisive political age, surely says it all. Technology and social media giants don’t fair any better with a survey by CIM finding that over 70% don’t trust their data with tech or social organisations.

But that’s only half the problem. Almost half (48%) of consumers admit that they do not understand how organisations use their data to even start to work out if it’s being used ethically or not. All this has led to a strong consensus in the marketing industry that something needs to be done to demonstrate the importance of privacy and to restore trust in how data is used and in the marketing industry as a whole.

The introduction of GDPR has certainly helped. And even Mark Zuckerberg has endorsed the need for change, recently proclaiming that ‘the future is private’.

How we get to this private and trust-based future is a complex question without an easy answer. GDPR has certainly played its part in establishing a legal base level for the use of personal data. Yet, the public expects more to be done than the legal minimum. To make things more complicated, the plethora of different online platforms, methods of marketing and user engagement means there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.

Nonetheless, some form of structure must be adopted, and some believe that there can be generally accepted methods of approach. One of these approaches might be the creation and adoption of ethical frameworks for online marketing, acting as a code for the industry.

For example, an online platform might create practices and policies that are transparent and clear in how they use personal data, both as a business themselves and also in the products or services they deliver. In the same way a customer can view and understand a good privacy policy, they should be able to navigate this ethical framework. They should be able to easily understand how it applies to their data and be able to access proof that the practices align with the policies.

That seems fairly reasonable. For many businesses, this would seem like a clear sensible approach to their online marketing practices. But is it too restrictive?

Others may argue that the customer experience is more important, and that trust is established through good business practice and effective customer relationships. What does an ethical framework matter if a customer finds it difficult or problematic to navigate a website or obtain help from customer services? Besides, how many customers read privacy policies anyway? Wouldn’t this cause more confusion? That would be precisely the unethical thing to do.

So, there isn’t an easy answer and, whilst a combination of both these approaches may well be the answer, the pros and cons of any potential solution needs rigorous testing.

On 15 July in the House of Commons, the DMA and the Debating Group, for which CIM is a key member will see four leaders in the fields of data privacy address this very topic.

The debate will be hosted by MP, Daniel Zeichner with Prof. Chris Speed, Chair of Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Stewart Room, Partner and Group Head of Data Protection, PwC; Nina Barakzai, Group Chief Privacy Officer, Unilever and; Ian Bates, Founder & Creative Partner, Firehaus all debating whether:

‘Marketers must adopt ethical data frameworks to engender trust with their customers’.

It is set to be a brilliant debate. If you would like to attend as a guest of CIM, follow the following link: http://www.debatinggroup.co.uk/next-debate-2/ 

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