As 2018 draws to a close, the issue of Facebook’s treatment of customer data and its approach to controlling access to this information just won’t go away. The social media giant is once again creating headlines for the wrong reasons – this time after targeting a bereaved mother with baby-related ads, along with other social platforms. This follows recent scrutiny over emails that apparently show how Facebook "whitelisted" some third-party apps to gain access to user data while blackballing others.
Both stories seem to highlight the lack of control users themselves have over their personal information and created ripples because, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the advent of GDPR (which ushered in greater consumer awareness of the use of personal information), data has gone from being something brokered in the background to a currency discussed in the open.
In 2018, we’ve seen a subsequent rise in activism through movements such as #DeleteFacebook that placed a mainstream focus on issues relating to privacy, security and usage of personal data. The activist backlash gained momentum and proved to be enlightening for people in terms of raising awareness of what they’re signing away. Consequently, when they learn that Facebook seemed to be controlling which companies can access their data (and which cannot) on their behalf, they’re unlikely to be happy.
The lesson for brands is clear. Any company that’s trying to capture our data, or build an ongoing relationship with an audience, has to think hard about the value exchange. It has to build an understanding of people’s needs and then create products and experiences for them that don’t already exist, in return for using their data.
Data is a polarising topic: consumers are usually either wilfully ignorant, scattergunning left-clicks on the cookie "accept" tabs in place since GDPR, or very much aware of its value and enraged by the lack of transparency and meaningful changes from the big data players.
Post-Cambridge Analytica, many have found claims of greater transparency from the social media companies to be tokenistic at best, especially in light of the "whitelisting" process. Yet it’s also the case that the likes of Facebook and Instagram are now allowing users to download their data archive to see exactly what it contains. But the files are limited – they contain stats relating to photos, comments and profile information, considered by many to be inconsequential when compared with details about cookies and location data. Like the bereaved mother, people want more to be done.
The democratisation of data is one of nine key trends detailed in our new Think Forward report and it’s an accelerating process because we’re in the midst of a revolution. As individuals become the gatekeepers to their own data, it’s essential that brands find access on the right terms.
This poses a big question for companies that rely on consumer information for their sales and marketing. Should attitudes towards data continue to change at the current pace? And if you’re seen as a business that uses data solely for your own benefit, what does that mean for the ways in which you should buy, sell and utilise it in future?
There are three clear solutions for brands looking to get to grips with this issue – appreciate the value of people’s data, show them what you’ve got and increase your transparency.
In terms of knowing the value of data, it’s worth bearing in mind that we’re about to become a data economy. But it’s equally clear that not all data is created equal. As it potentially becomes more expensive and less abundant, work out what you need and the ROI value it brings to your business. For instance, is it your priority to understand your customer’s geo-location? And what type of data do you need to communicate with your audience? Think about what you can and can’t live with as a brand. Understanding the value of different levels of data will help you streamline its future use.
Second, you have to be willing to show people what you’ve got. Increasing numbers of customers expect greater transparency not only from the likes of Google and Facebook, but all the brands that store and use their data. The #DeleteFacebook movement has shown the scale of the potential backlash – 390,000 people have discussed deleting their accounts online. Soon, consumers may be able to request what you have on them. Be ready for this and make sure it’s a seamless process.
As we look ahead to the growing role that data will play in connecting people with brands in 2019 and beyond, the advertisers that take these steps to embrace the democratisation of data will be among those that thrive.
Mobbie Nazir is chief strategy officer at We Are Social