Over the past 20 years, our world has exploded with a seemingly never-ending evolution of digital transformation. Accessibility to our infinite internet of things has enabled mankind to interact with others through video conference calls; scale business models to global markets; and amplified our ability to respond. As we connect to more platforms and engage with more digital playgrounds, we also (in)directly relinquish permission for companies, and black-hat actors, to utilize our data in ways we never imagined.
To better illustrate the issue at hand and why data regulation is an urgent need around the globe, let’s use Facebook as an example as to how our data has been used over the past few years for marketing purposes. When a user joins Facebook – or any social media platform – the user’s intent is to connect with friends while discussing a wide variety of topics and sharing imagery they find socially equitable. We join communities, create events, and start fundraisers to promote our favorite charities. Over time, we’ve also experienced some of the less favorable aspects of social media, which could include arguing about politics, sharing inappropriate memes, and bullying. Needless to say, there are many reasons why we sign up for and use social media platforms, but rarely do users think that they could potentially be the product of marketers and politicians.
According to Emarketer.com, advertisers had spent over $23.5 billion on social media advertising alone in the year 2015. In the year 2018, it is stated on Hootsuite that advertisers have spent over $51.3 billion – representing a booming 118% increase in global social media advertising spending in only 3-years. Moreover, the average value of each user on these social media platforms has grown from $50 to $71 during the same period. In other words, as advertisers continue to invest more money promoting their brands and products on social media, so too are consumers spending more on products and services that are being featured on said social media platforms.
With over 3 billion users logging into social media every year, advertisers are throwing money at social media platforms primarily because of how easy it is to target the demographics that best resemble those of their average customer. For example, an advertiser on Facebook used to be able to target users with advertisements based on household income, which vehicle the user owns, and countless other invasive consumer-buying data points. It was a goldmine of data for marketers, and provided an efficient way of targeting for marketers whose products have niche consumers. Instead of casting a wide net of audiences via traditional programmatic display advertising, social media provided consumer data that had never made it easier for marketers to target, acquire and retain consumers. Though this is an incredible opportunity for businesses and marketers, it raises serious questions regarding data privacy for the users being targeted.
During the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States, regulators investigated a British political marketing firm Cambridge Analytica for stealing private user data from Facebook’s platform, and using this data to manipulate voters. Private data of over 87,000,000 Facebook users was hijacked during this scandal as nearly all of them did not consent to Cambridge Analytica possessing this data to begin with. Cambridge Analytica claimed this data as their own, and has been convicted as using it for devious political purposes. Though we won’t go into the details of this scandal within this blog post, one can ascertain how dangerous the power of this data can be when it can be used to diminish the otherwise democratic foundation of electing someone into public office. Since this scandal has surfaced, Facebook has since removed 3rd party demographic data that otherwise used to provide marketers with the financial data mentioned earlier – a huge win for data privacy and consumers everywhere.
Fast-forward to present day 2018, the worldwide European-regulatory act entitled General Data Regulation Protection (GDPR) has come into effect and has brought along a new standard of data privacy. This act impacts any commercial establishments who conduct business within the European countries, or those who engage with European users international. In short, if a company possess any consumer information of a European citizen, there is a series of data protective and privacy protocols and standards that said company needs to abide by, or else it will face heavy fines from the European Union.
Though GDPR’s regulation has limited jurisdiction in the United States, U.S. regulators are starting to pay attention and invest more resources into this newfound threat to its democracy and the citizens therein. This year, Facebook and Twitter representatives testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer a series of questions around how they plan to better protect their users and their data moving forward. Because social media platforms house petabytes of user data, they become targets for hackers and other bad actors in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean that other companies need to improve their data privacy protections as well. For instance, Equifax was hacked in 2017 due to a cybersecurity vulnerability, which lead to sensitive consumer information of over 145million U.S. citizens. This figure represented almost all adults in the United States, which emphasizes the concern and threat around how important it is for companies to be evermore protective of their data.
With all this in mind, marketers find themselves at a turning point in the modern marketplace where data can no longer be seen as an intangible set of numbers and words. Instead, consumer data needs to be handled as delicately as if it were one of the most important assets of a business – and for some businesses like social media platforms – it is.
Here are some tips on how to raise the standard on your company’s handling of consumer data:
- Use encrypted file transfer protocol (FTP) sites to share large datasets internally and externally
- Invest in offline and legacy database infrastructures to protect user data from external threats
- Make sure all your vendor contracts have a clause about data and personal identifiable information (PII) protection
The future is now, and businesses need to take the time to make sure their users’ and customers’ data and privacy is protected as if it were their own. Over the years, we have seen data breaches occur more and more to companies of all sizes. These companies have suffered revenue losses because customers lost faith in them and instead opt with competitors as a result. Because Frasca Analytica takes data privacy seriously, we will continue to produce more articles about we help our clients brace for a new world of consumer information and data protection.