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Daniel Batey, Managing Director of Union Data, ponders the ‘small’ matter of consumer trust when it comes to personal data and what it means for us marketers.

When we formed Union Data a little over six months ago we had a simple goal: to drive more effective marketing for our clients by unleashing the creative power of data for the common good. An approach we call data sharpening.

There couldn’t have been a better time. Client demand was high and data is a hot topic. In part because of the imminent arrival of GDPR but also because of the genuine opportunities opening up to us by the constant advances in tech.

Then it happened. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. And in a moment the conversation turned from talking about the power of data to trying to work out if data was the devil.

It’s been a tough time for our profession. As marketers, it’s meant taking a long hard look at ourselves. As data harvesters, we knew that data was a powerful tool we could tap into to change consumer habits. Could we have been complicit?

Let’s cover the scandal briefly. Putting it simply, clever people used data harvested through the Facebook platform to analyse consumer behaviours and push political messages. Why is this relevant?

Firstly, because Facebook is a huge platform for digital marketing, and it is being hit hard.

But much, much more importantly, because using data and pushing messages is our industry. This is Digital Marketing, it affects us all. It is our reputation on the line. These are our practices which are being scrutinised, challenged in court and splashed out across the media.

Will this just fade away? Are we already past peak scandal? Cambridge Analytica, public data villain number 1 is no more, the people involved have gone, although they will no doubt surface again in another guise.  What they were doing with data was incredibly powerful, clever stuff. And it worked. Unfortunately for all of us, Cambridge Analytica didn’t stop to think about whether what they were doing was right or whether it was ethical.

And whilst Mark Zuckerberg faced the European Parliament this week to apologise for past events it’s hard not to think of it as purely lip service, especially when faced with the many times he has had to apologise in the past and when you consider their current cookie policy:

“Cookies enable Facebook to offer the Facebook Products to you and to understand the information we receive about you, including information about your use of other websites and apps, whether or not you are registered or logged in.”

Hold on, what was that? “Your use of other websites and apps, whether or not you are registered or logged in.” So, even as a non-user of Facebook, by clicking that link Facebook will collect all my data, wherever I go online?

People are simply unaware of this data harvesting and privacy policies like this one do absolutely nothing to engender trust. The world has finally woken up to the fact that data has real value. But, this scandal has shown how data can be misused, could this be the devil in the data?

Because of this scandal, and because of the increased awareness of personal data that GDPR brings, it feels like we could  be entering the equivalent of the crisis in confidence that hit banking in 2008.

Consumer trust in banks was destroyed, and there are very few signs it has returned.  So now, in our industry, litigation is looming, villains are appearing. Will being the Managing Director of Union Data trigger embarrassing conversations and questions about ethical practices? I sincerely hope not.

Where does this leave us?

It’s not all doom and gloom… we actually see this as an opportunity, not simply because we want to believe it, but because if we take the time to think about it, this ‘crisis’ in trust and confidence, this movement created by GDPR (which is far from a perfect piece of legislation) gives us a chance to do a bit of self-reflection – to refocus on the essence of what we do, which is to connect.  A product with a consumer, a message with a person. Connections.

The devil is not the data, it’s the misuse of that data. If we get it wrong, if we forget that people’s data matters to them, if we lose their trust, more people will restrict our use of data.

Union Data

The devil’s in the data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has put the spotlight on all marketing – clients need to ensure their data processes are bulletproof.

The huge irony in this is of course that the more people restrict their data, the less targeted our marketing becomes, and we know that the worse the targeting, the worse the consumer experience.

It’s so important that this scandal is a real wake up call to all of us, because it really is up to us to drive change across the industry.

We’ll leave you with three things to consider:

  1. Data can bite you back, as Facebook are finding out now. So, every time you use it, think ‘Should I?’, think ‘What if?’.
  2. Do not lose sight of what we are trying to do. Focus on the simple things: know your audience, find creative messages that resonate, make those connections count, analyse and learn. We probably don’t need to harvest 87m records to do any of that.
  3. The devil is in the data, but data is not the devil.

If you’d like to find out more about Data Sharpening and the services offered by Union Data you can email Daniel at