What Brands Need to Know About Transparency and Privacy From Last Year’s Mistakes

Consumers are the priority, always

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The last 12 months saw media giants face several data-related incidents: 87 million people had their Facebook data siphoned by Cambridge Analytica—nearly 40 million more than first expected—and 500,000 Google Plus users were exposed by a security flaw.

The effects of these events were felt worldwide. Consumer trust was dented, especially for companies shown to be handling information without appropriate care, and data practices were thrust into the spotlight. As an industry, we need to find ways of advancing and reinforcing faith in data security.

So, what lessons can we take from these events to restore future confidence?

Data must be regulated and unified

To protect customer data and build better experiences, companies must gain improved understanding of what information they possess about consumers as well as how to use it. Complying with legislation will be central to achieving this, including the recently enforced GDPR, upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act and potential federal law.

Companies must realize that customers should always be priority, which means employing robust internal privacy and transparency measures voluntarily.

GDPR requires that businesses obtain consent for gathering personal data about EU citizens and provide a copy of records for those who request it. California’s data law makes it mandatory for companies to tell Californians what information is being collected about them while empowering them to ask firms to stop selling their data. Oversight of data will be essential to adhere to regulations, and for most companies, this will mean tackling the issue of data silos.

Following an explosion in the production of consumer data, many companies are struggling with diverse insight processing where data from different sources is held separately. As a result, it’s hard for firms to assess and track consent for the information they hold.

To overcome this issue, we need to combine all insights about users in one comprehensive pool, such as data-centric web services or customer data platforms. In adopting such tools, companies can create a unified hub that not only makes it easier to meet access requests and update data preferences, but also construct 360-degree profiles, the key ingredient for driving engaging, personalized experiences and positive brand association.

Built-in security and clarity are vital

Data concerns have shaken confidence in online media, with the Edelman Trust Barometer finding an 11 percent drop in social trust in 2018 and “new expectations” from consumers for brands to take charge of restoring order, particularly around securing personal data. While 2018 started with little awareness of how companies were using data, “responsible privacy” is now seen as good practice. Companies must realize that customers should always be priority, which means employing robust internal privacy and transparency measures voluntarily to not just adhere to the rules but actually understand and respect consumer data.

Regular assessment of data supply chains, tracing where first-party consumer flows, who can see it, whether partners abide by legislation and following principles, such as privacy by design, is key for any organization. Equipping all new systems, procedures and projects with built-in privacy protection will help to ensure compliance and minimize risks. Plus, deploying internal standards will publicly demonstrate commitment to safeguarding consumer data, boosting brand image and, more importantly, audience trust.

Similarly, there should be greater openness around the challenges we’re facing and the steps being taken to address them. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who has been tasked with fixing the platform’s reputation, has described the silence of top executives after the Cambridge Analytica breach as one of Facebook’s biggest mistakes. Despite fears that data transparency could impact profit, it pays in the long run: research shows that four in five consumers will leave a brand if their personal data is used without their knowledge, indicating the seriousness that consumers take their data privacy.

Recognition of the need to protect privacy is growing. In fact, it should be considered a “fundamental human right,” according to one of the world’s most powerful chiefs, Apple’s Tim Cook. Consequently, advertising success in the immediate future will depend on removing any obstacles, such as inefficient data handling and data silos. Compliance in Europe should serve as a springboard for brands to globally gain control of fragmented data and create consolidated insights they can easily protect and harness.

Ultimately what we should learn from trials and tribulations of these global giants is that it’s a matter of trust. A better understanding of data practices combined with respect for the consumer are only going to improve relationships between brands and their audiences and develop trust and loyalty with your customers.