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Ethical use of data may feel like a responsibility carved only for analysts and data scientist, but as marketers and advertisers, we have the unique opportunity to use data to influence and shape society. It’s both a privilege, and a responsibility.

Especially in our current landscape. Technology and data mean that we’re no longer just in the business of billboard and print ads. Instead, our focus is often on hyper-targeted and personalised content. A world where a single ad might be created just for you.

I’m a strong advocate for personalisation, having worked in this area for many years. When your browsing experience is wallpapered with irrelevant offers, you have a right to be ticked. We should all see ads that resonate with us, not ones that don’t. Often, I no longer need to search for what I need; it now comes to me, served up in bite-sized ads at just the right moment. Intelligent, and convenient.

Sharing my personal data hasn’t been an issue, simply because I feel I have nothing to hide.Or so I thought.

Lately, I’ve found myself taking more measures to protect my data. Choosing not to share when asked and opting out where possible. This subtle but significant shift is the result of a series of high-profile stories, where data has been misused to negatively influence society.

The good, the bad and the ugly

On the whole most companies, advertisers, marketers and the likes, have been good. They’ve looked after our data and done the right thing by the consumer and the brand they work for.

But a few have been bad. Really bad. And they’ve ruined it for the rest of us, creating general mistrust when it comes to anything to do with data.

And these aren’t small companies. It’s Google+ (which has since closed down)1, Facebook, and the data giant we’ve all come to know, Cambridge Analytica. You’ll be familiar with then if you’ve watched ‘The Great Hack’, the popular Netflix documentary, exploring the potential data has and how when in the wrong hands, it can have devastating effecting on society.

On the other hand, there has also been some change for the good. Facebook and Instagram have made a bold statement by hiding the visible ‘like’ count on posts, aimed at improving how users feel when they use the platform. The change indicates the pressure the social media giant faces over the possible impact its technology has on mental health, and especially on children. It’s a small change with a large societal impact.

Europe has put a few rules in place through introducing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), protecting personal data – outlining how data is collected, stored and used. Many New Zealand companies subscribe to the GDPR framework, mainly because our businesses reach Europe. However, the rest of the world, namely America are still catching up – which is worrying as the US is home to our largest social networks.

We can make change

This isn’t the first time we as an industry have had our ethics tested. But we have the opportunity to use our choices to bring about change.

Many brands now subscribe to ethical production, ensuring fair living wage, working conditions, human and animal rights, and more. And many more subscribe to sustainable values, caring about their impact on the environment.

I believe brands should also subscribe to ethical use of data, ensuring they are not only transparent about how it has been collected, stored and used, but also, aware of its potential societal impact.

Ethical use of data may sound like just a good idea right now, but I suspect that over time, it will be the success or demise of companies.

We know that Millennials and Gen Z’s give their dollars to brands that align with their social beliefs, and equally veto those who don’t. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Millennial Survey, a third said they’ve stopped or lessened a business relationship because of the amount of personal data the company requests, and a quarter have done the same because of a company’s inability to protect their private data. In these ways, people are taking back control of their data.

I expect these younger cohorts to use their spending power to create transparency and to demand ethical use of data, especially when of a personal nature. Eventually, this will become the standard for how companies operate.

This is our opportunity to bring change.
Let’s use our power to create a safe and fair future.
Let’s stay on the good side of history.


Words by Tracey Reed

Category: Ideas

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