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Opinion

#DeleteFacebook is the start, not the end

Facebook has joined the list of tech giants kicking big own-goals. Mark Zuckerberg issued a PR-spun sincere apology for his knowing use of our personal data, a week after threatening to sue the Guardian for revealing it. After the NSA Prism expose in 2013, Zuckerberg publicly pledged to “continue fighting aggressively to keep your information safe and secure”, a year before ending the access that led to the current Cambridge Analytica scandal.

If only the NSA had set up a Facebook ad account, it seems they could have had all the data they wanted!

The question is: why are we so outraged? Facebook acted within their stated guidelines, and the researcher who got the data passed to Cambridge Analytica acted by these guidelines. Regarding the legality of Cambridge Analytica using that data to influence elections, I’ll leave that to the lawyers to sort out.

We’re outraged because we have an intrinsic belief in the fact that we own our data and should have control over the way our personal data is used. Yet the law doesn’t back this up. Organisations use our personal data daily with impunity. As an industry, we have largely followed an unwritten “don’t be creepy” rule for fear of killing the golden goose. Google even included anti-creepy clauses in their ad guidelines. Email marketers have known for decades that people would be up in arms if they found out how much we knew about them.

Legislation often takes decades to follow technical revolutions. The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), due to start on May 25, is the first serious government response. It puts all EU citizens in control of their data. It’s inevitable that all major markets will enact similar legislation over the coming years. People want – and will demand – control of their data. #DeleteFacebook is the start, not the end.

The current situation where companies are able to amass as much data on private citizens as possible with little regulation will seem like a bizarre blip in history that we’ll tell our grandchildren about.

“Responsible data usage will become table stakes.”

As a digital marketer, the process of becoming compliant with GDPR is painful. As a citizen, I welcome this. There is data about me out there that I have no control over. A little-known Facebook feature allows you to download all the data they hold on you. Browse that data and you can’t help but feel a little creeped out. Who knows what others hold?

At Showpo, we are becoming compliant with GDPR. It’s an arduous task, but we believe respecting our customer’s data will be a competitive advantage. People are rapidly losing faith in the ability of organisations to protect and responsibly use their data (and yes, Showpo has had problems with this in the past). Responsible data usage will in time become table stakes.

This legislation can also help break the data monopolies that are increasingly dominating business. The GDPR gives the right to data portability. For example, if you choose a new streaming music service, you can import all your playlists from Spotify or Apple Music. In a world where the data-rich get data-richer, this is a great equalizer, which will foster innovation by reducing the barriers to entry in data heavy industries. That’s a good thing for consumers and marketers alike.

With my technical marketer hat on, Cambridge Analytica used the data in a frankly brilliant way. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. We need to respect that customers own their data, and treat them with the respect we would want ourselves.

Mark Baartse is the chief marketing officer at Showpo and a lecturer for the Association for Data-Driven Marketing & Advertising.

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