What to do with data?

Earlier this year, news broke that the profiling company Cambridge Analytica used data of over 50 million Facebook users in a now-infamous compromise. Unethical to say the least, the use of personal information influences how the public thinks about online advertising.

Data was collected from Facebook users’ profiles, with information about their identity, “likes”, and friend networks. The catch is that this data was collected with only a small portion of user’s permission.

The kind of private data the firm collected was based on basic demographics, such as gender, age, or location. However, the information also included specific personality traits, such as belief in astrology, level of concern about the environment, or an interest in guns and shooting.

This specific data was then reportedly used to influence online behavior and beliefs, to fuel an already-existing fire. After the data breach was reported across the world, Cambridge Analytica faced public backlash. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was even called into a hearing in front of the United States Congress, answering extensive questions about data privacy and Facebook’s obligation to users.

This public response to data abuse is not to be ignored, especially for online advertisers. This scandal just goes to show that ends do not justify means, marketers included.

Online advertising is like any other industry, where ethics and repercussions must be considered and defined when making any decision. Those conducting marketing using possibly sensitive data should take a step back, analyze their current data collection approach, and how responsibly they attain information to target the correct audience. Should any shady practices be found, advertisers should definitely consider modifying their methods.

Upholding data standards internally during a time when there is little to no external regulation in the United States not only keeps individual advertising organizations to a higher standard, but also sets the bar for advertising and marketing as a whole, which benefits all.

Further, transparency in data collection is also a must. Originally, Cambridge Analytica claimed their questionnaires were used for “educational purposes only”, another reason they received so much outrage. Therefore, whenever collecting information from anyone for marketing purposes, stating so will certainly keep any doubts at bay.

Upholding ethics and displaying transparency is only the beginning in wading through the muddy waters of online advertising and data collection, but it is certainly an honest start.

Note: Some information taken from The New York Times

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