Industry trade body the World Federation of Advertisers - which represents major brand owners including AB InBev, Diageo, L’Oréal, Mars, Mastercard, P&G, Shell and Unilever - has published what it claims is the world’s first guide on data ethics for data-driven marketing, designed to provide clear actions and practical guidance.
"Data Ethics – The Rise of Morality in Technology" sets out what marketers need to consider to ensure their organisation always uses data ethically and the actions they can take to promote the issue across their companies.
Published just a week after the second anniversary of GDPR’s implementation, the goal is to encourage companies to go beyond simply following the rules on data privacy by getting them to see the vital importance of addressing the gap between what they can do and what they should do.
The importance of data ethics is backed by a new WFA survey of senior executives at some of the world’s biggest brand owners, which reveals that 82% would consider leaving their current employer if they felt the approach to data was not ethical.
Some 26% of marketers have already felt uncomfortable about the use of data at some time during their careers, yet just 48% of respondents said their company had a data ethics policy right now.
The WFA insists an essential element of using data in an ethical way is the cultural transformation required, not just to push it up the corporate agenda but also to ensure that other employees think carefully about where data comes from, whether it is truly representative and if there any issues raised through its use.
WFA chief executive Stephan Loerke said: “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.
"The ad industry needs to have a conversation on data that distinguishes ‘the right to do something’ from ‘doing the right thing’. This must-read report will help brands start to navigate complex questions which will ultimately give them a competitive edge in an increasingly digital future."
The guide outlines four key principles that should underpin a data ethics approach – respect, fairness, accountability and transparency:
Respect: all data usage should respect the people behind the data and companies need to strive to understand the interests of all parties and use consumer data to improve people’s lives.
Fairness: data usage should aim to be inclusive, acknowledge diversity and eliminate bias rather than dividing groups. Brands need to examine their data sets, mindsets and governance approach to ensure they are inclusive in the way they use data.
Accountability: Consumers expect companies to have open and transparent data practices backed up by robust global and local governance. The same standards should also be applied across partners, suppliers, publishers and platforms.
Transparency: Although the online advertising ecosystem is complex, brands should apply transparency principles and work towards more open and honest data practices, particularly as AI and machine-learning approaches start to automate decisions.
Unilever chief digital and marketing officer Conny Braams commented: “The advertising, marketing and media industry must look beyond regulation and champion the ethical use of consumer 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.
"This paper outlines the purpose-driven leadership required from advertisers, platforms, publishers and developers to put people’s rights, interests and expectations first. It’s great to see the WFA Data Ethics Board bring the industry together and share best practice in such a critical, complex and evolving space.”