Data Ethics Is Becoming More Important for Marketers

A WFA survey found a majority of employees would consider leaving their jobs over their company's poor data practices

Illustration of a target and people dressed in business attire
Less than half of people surveyed by the World Federation of Advertisers said their company has a data ethics policy. Getty Images

Marketers are becoming increasingly aware of how they gather and use consumer data.

Two years out from the enactment of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and a month before enforcements of the California Consumer Privacy Act begins, the World Federation of Advertisers has published a survey that shows 74% of CMOs believe data ethics will be more important to their role in the next five years.

“The benefits and critical importance of data-enabled tech have been more evident of late than ever before. But we should not default to an attitude of ‘because we can, we should’ in terms of data usage,” said Stephan Loerke, CEO of the WFA. “The ad industry needs to have a conversation on data that distinguishes ‘the right to do something’ from ‘doing the right thing.’”

The survey’s accompanying guide on data ethics aims to push the ad industry to rethink data practices, get ahead of regulations and satisfy a workforce that’s becoming increasingly aware of how corporations use data.

“We have a responsibility to inspire trust in our brands and our use of data, and raise ethical standards to drive positive change in society,” said Conny Braams, chief digital and marketing officer at Unilever.

Privacy laws such as CCPA and GDPR and web browsers prohibiting third-party cookies are forcing media traders to reorient their businesses around first-party data, which likely means closer relationships between publishers and marketers.

According to the survey of 147 brand-side marketers, with a combined marketing budget of $55 billion, 26% of respondents have felt morally uncomfortable about the way their company—past or present—has used data.

Meanwhile, only 48% of respondents said their company currently has a data ethics policy, and 82% said they’d consider leaving their job if they felt their employer poorly used consumer data.

“It is crucial for businesses to think beyond legal compliance and consider ethical aspects when it comes to consumer data. It’s no longer good enough to think only about what we can do with people’s data, the question must be what should we do,” said Barbara Martin Coppola, chief digital officer at Ikea Group.

The buy-side has been taking some steps in tightening its data practices, such as WPP’s partnership with SuperAwesome to responsibly serve ads to kids without using or collecting their data.

@andrewblustein Andrew Blustein is a programmatic reporter at Adweek.