Until Facebook Verifies Compliance and Penalizes Violators, Usage Will Continue to Decline

Previous enforcement policies were based on trust

Facebook is working on unleashing a Custom Audience certification tool to ensure that email addresses were acquired "properly" by advertisers. Getty Images, Facebook
Headshot of Eric Wanta

Data-driven marketing has exploded over the past few years. Marketers have celebrated their newfound ability to improve effectiveness through better targeting and personalization. In a recent article, The Economist proclaimed personal data as “the world’s most valuable resource.” Social platforms such as Facebook have been at the epicenter of the resulting gold rush, providing advertisers with an unending supply of increasingly granular user data.

Take the latest and highest profile Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data privacy case. It’s clear that data-driven marketing can be so effective that some platforms and marketers end up bending, breaking or completely ignoring the rules. In addition, users are often completely unaware of the ways their personal information can be accessed and used. The potential upside for companies is huge, while the risk of getting caught has been virtually nonexistent.

So, is this actually a tipping point for user privacy or just another example that will soon be forgotten? And what’s next for platforms like Facebook and for the marketers who have become so reliant upon them?

To date, Facebook’s proposed changes sound incremental and appear to insulate the company from responsibility by blaming marketers for misuses. Furthermore, Facebook seems to be implying that their own users have been either unaware of existing privacy options (that corporate seems to think are transparent, understandable and accessible) or that they are too lazy to take the steps needed to protect their own data.

Facebook recently disclosed that it’s working on a new Custom Audience certification tool that would require advertisers to represent and assure that the email addresses used to target ads were obtained “properly.” The ability to create and use Custom Audiences was one of several game-changers for marketers—and for Facebook’s ability to make more money from the ad inventory it sells. It allows companies to target specific people instead of broad groups and enables them to better deliver more relevant messages.

Existing terms of use already required advertisers to have consent for the data they used, but it’s clear that Facebook’s enforcement of the policy was based mostly on trust, lacking any meaningful system of verification and imposing little in the way of punishment if and when abuses were found.

By connecting directly with prospects on social media, sales reps are able to share relevant content and create more personal connections.

Facebook needs to go well beyond simply making marketers more aware of rules and certifying compliance. I would like to see Facebook sign their own pledge to proactively check compliance across all marketers and implement substantial penalties for those who violate. Only by verifying that compliance is actually taking place and publicly calling out and penalizing advertisers who misuse customer data will Facebook regain the trust of its users and protect the advertisers who are using the data in good faith. Until then, the platform will continue to shed users and experience more declines in overall usage.

As a marketer, I understand the ongoing pressure to find fresh leads. Getting the email addresses of potential prospects has been and will continue to be a critical piece of B2B lead generation programs. The issue of obtaining consent seems simple, and the upcoming rollout of GDPR in Europe has already focused attention on this challenge and defined rules to ensure people explicitly opt in. However, even well-intentioned advertisers can find themselves operating in gray areas and having significant questions.

People are always more willing to share data when they feel they’re getting some value in return. Seventy-nine percent of respondents in a recent Deloitte survey agreed that they would be willing to share their data if there was a clear benefit for them. This is the reason marketers have dedicated more and more budget to content marketing strategies that generate value-added material people can download in exchange for providing contact information.

However, the sheer volume of personal information being collected online makes it virtually impossible (and impractical) for people to knowingly opt in or out of every type of data for every app or website they interact with. Most will just accept terms and conditions blindly, use broad, high-level privacy settings and hope for the best.

Companies are turning more to social selling techniques rather than simply trying to reach new prospects via email. By connecting directly with prospects on social media, sales reps are able to share relevant content and create more personal connections. This avoids the potential pitfalls and negative perceptions of other approaches.

Some “misuse” is clear-cut while other cases are more subjective. If you’ve obtained consent to market to someone, does that mean you can use any and all information that they have disclosed about themselves on a platform like Facebook? Or just the data that they explicitly gave your company when they opted in? Or is it the combination of data obtained by both the marketer and a particular platform?

Ultimately, consumers will punish marketers who misuse their data and vote with their feet by disengaging from platforms they don’t trust. What level of transparency is required to ensure consumer’s privacy expectations are met while allowing businesses to access the data they need?

Eric Wanta oversees all marketing strategy and programs for Zive, maker of Kiwi for G Suite.