Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Data Responsibility

By James Butcher (Digital Group Business Director)

Cambridge Analytica v2

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for Facebook as they grapple with the very public fallout of the Cambridge Analytica crisis. To summarise, Cambridge Analytic built an app called thisisyourdigitallife where hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test, agreeing to have their data collected for academic use. However, the app also collected information about the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the unauthorised collection of data from an additional tens of millions of users. Facebook’s Platform Policy only allows the collection of friends’ data to help brands improve user experience, and prohibits it from being sold on or used for advertising. However, it has since come to light that Cambridge Analytica’s data was utilised for 3rd party marketing campaigns, with some high-profile examples including Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Brexit.

Facebook users are starting to respond: a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted for Marketing Week by research agency Toluna found that the scandal had prompted 34.4% of those questioned to update their privacy settings on Facebook, with 7.66% of respondents claiming to have already deleted their account. The hashtag #deletefacebook started trending on Twitter, and online searches for the phrase “delete Facebook” have increased 423% since 18 March (Hitwise UK).

Facebook were initially slow to respond, but have since announced the following initiatives in response:

  • Investigating apps that had access to large amounts of information before changes to the platform in 2014 that reduced data access;
  • Telling people if their data has been misused;
  • Turning off access of unused apps;
  • Restricting login data to more basic information unless apps have approval;
  • Encouraging users to manage the apps they use through clearer privacy settings;
  • And rewarding users who find vulnerabilities.

More accountability and transparency in the collection and subsequent use of consumer data is a good thing. Never waste a good crisis – this is an opportunity for the industry to address consumer concerns on what is and isn’t being collected, and to what purpose. At the end of the day, better targeted advertising that enables free content is in the interest of consumers, marketers and publishers alike.

The fallout will continue, and it’s not just limited to Facebook’s share price: we are also seeing consumers being more selective and aware of what they are willing to share across other platforms, such as Google and Twitter. Research from the Wall Street Journal also suggests that more people will lie about their personal details on social media platforms, including using fake names, incorrect birth years and falsified addresses. A recent survey of U.S., French, German, Italian and British consumers found that over 40% had intentionally falsified personal information online.

Luckily for Facebook, it’s only a few brands that have actually halted advertising on their platform. Some of the high profile names who have suspended media spend “until the facts are out and the correct actions have been taken” include Mozilla Corp, Commerzbank and most recently Pep Boys, a major automotive retailer. The rest have simply threatened to leave if Facebook don’t clean up their act, like the ISBA, which represents over 3,000 brands including P&G and Unilever. Just as brands forgave YouTube for putting their advertising next to hateful content, however, brands will also forgive Facebook – as long as they sort out their data privacy issues and continue to perform for marketers. Brands will only leave if users leave, or if Facebook stops performing, which, with increased regulations from the likes of the EU, could be a concern for the future.

For now, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has had little effect on brands. From what we know at present, Facebook has not sold, lost or made public any of their advertisers’ data. The platform has simply abused their users’ data – though that is bad enough. Brands can still advertise on the platform as before, but with one slight change: Facebook is shutting down its Partner Categories program that lets brands use third-party data to deliver ads. For brands that only use Facebook data or first-party data, this is not a problem. It is only an issue if marketers use a data company like Epsilon or Acxiom to augment their data to target more efficiently. This therefore affects managed Custom Audiences, as Facebook will now require those uploading managed audiences to confirm the audience was built using only first party-data provided by the brand, not by a data provider.

Audience targeting remains an enticing proposition, and new technology and the digitalisation of new devices only increases the potential in this space. Consumer privacy and security must remain at the heart of all data collection to rebuild consumer trust and a healthier digital media marketplace. Further disruption is on the horizon with the huge potential of blockchain, and its ability to facilitate greater transparency and security in the murky digital supply chain – you can read more about our thoughts on blockchain here.

FCB only partners with fully compliant data management companies (Experian, Roy Morgan, etc.) or direct with the platforms themselves (Trade Me, Facebook, Google, etc.), where all data is collected through the correct consumer terms and conditions. As the custodians of our client’s media spend, we take brand safety, data security and compliance seriously, and operate with the appropriate safety and security checks in place. Please ask if you would like further details on these checks.

Date: April 05, 2018