Why the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal is the perfect consumer storm ahead of GDPR

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Maximising you Facebook advertising

Many folks are waking up to a new Facebook-free frontier this morning after #deletefacebook ironically flooded social media feeds in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This arguably hair-trigger response to a largely pervasive issue is perversely refreshing for the broader marketing industry, reinforced by the sheer volume of outraged-yet-engaged tweets.

But the opacity of data use is not a new issue. So why has this scandal captured the public’s attention?

Facebook has always felt like a village where everyone knows your name, what colour top milk you buy and what Sunday paper you like best. It’s home to photos of your kids’ first birthday, lengthy political rants and pictures of Magaluf ’09 you’d probably rather forget. It was the first major social media space that felt safe to share our lives on, unfettered - and that is possibly why an exposé of Facebook selling your personal data for someone else’s political gain feels like a serious violation of trust. It reminds me of when your Mum read your teenage diary even though you thought the padlock was watertight.

However, what is particularly interesting for marketers, is that this scandal feels almost like a movie trailer for the upcoming GDPR legislation in May. This gives us a real working answer to the much-asked GDPR question of ‘how much do you think this will affect consumer behaviour on the whole?’ If this is anything to go by, then it will affect their behaviour to the tune of destroying brand trust along with billions in market share losses.

Everyone who uses the internet to browse websites will be familiar with clicking ‘I agree’ to a vague statement of intent that pops up on your screen and mentions something about cookies.

Cookies are pieces of data that store information about you - this could be simple such as ‘I have been on this site’, or as complex as knowing detailed information about your online behaviour, lifestyle choices, views and preferences. Tracking like this is fundamentality what makes digital ads often feel serendipitous or creepy, invasive or genuinely useful (yes it does happen!). This isn’t necessarily bad in itself (or illegal). However, the application, extraction and exploitation of this data are where the lines between legality and morality start to blur.

This blurring of consent and control of public and publisher is what GDPR directly sets out to tackle. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal has shortcut the question of ‘why should I care about a boring data law?’ and hurtled it into a very public and personal sphere ahead of May’s impending law.

Fair exchange

Post-GDPR, the data is back in the control of the consumer. As of May 25th, 2018, consumers will be able to request what data is being held about them and they will have the right to be forgotten and, more importantly, get greater clarity on transparency on how their data is being used. The emphasis is now on the brands to negotiate this new opt-in world successfully – or they face a fine of €20m or 4% of global turnover.

This increasing scrutiny from consumers is only going to get worse, especially with more and more high profile data breaches (I am confident there will be more). So how do businesses and brands tackle this growing scepticism from consumers, in an age where data is becoming more powerful and valuable than ever?

It’s about offering the empowered consumer real value in exchange for personal data and demonstrating how the customer can benefit from sharing it – we call it the data exchange and it needs to be on every marketers’ agenda.

As an example – in an extensive research project we ran last year which looked into the attitudes towards data privacy and permissions, we asked customers how willing they were to share their spending/saving habits with an airline. Unsurprisingly only 4% said they would. But when we gave them the option of control, we increased this figure eleven-fold: 45% were willing to share when we outlined a tailored offer, a “personalised travel itinerary based on my budget and preferences”. The findings were the same across eight sectors.

Put simply, consumers are more willing to share their data with you if you give them a meaningful data value exchange.

So while #DeleteFacebook might be a knee-jerk reaction, it does further prove that trust, clarity and transparency are hygiene factors to consumers when it comes to their data. If we are to continue to talk to consumers with useful and meaningful marketing, then brands, media owners and publishers alike need to change attitudes to the data that they hold.

And perhaps most importantly, they need to realise they don’t own their customers’ data, their customers have simply let them use it for a while. The sooner everyone starts being more grateful for that privilege and provides their customers with tangible benefits, based on what we know about them, I’m pretty sure we’ll start seeing the dividends.

Bring on GDPR!

Jess Geary is digital media director at Rapp UK

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.