More than 50 million Facebook user profiles were harvested unlawfully to Cambridge Analytica, controversial data analytics provider. This is one of the largest data leaks in the social media giant’s history. Data Republic co-founder and CEO, Paul McCarney, labelled the scandal a “telling example of what can happen when big data is shared without a strictly defined guideline on ‘permitted use’”.

Even though Cambridge Analytica harvested these profiles in order to target voters in US and UK elections and political activities, this scandal also serves as a warning to marketers on how to use consumer information. Consumers have been profiled for years by marketing organisations to understand their behaviour and what triggers product purchases. With digital marketing, it is much easier to track consumers online, analyse their activities and use these data analytics tools and personal recommendations to craft future strategies.

So, what should the marketing and media industry learn from the latest data ‘breach’?

 Trust: It’s important that policies need to be enforced to protect people’s information. The way consumer behavioural data is being used can damage consumer trust, not only across social media but other digital marketing platforms as well. Unilever CMO, Keith Weed stated, “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”

Transparency: Vaughan Chandler, Red Planet executive manager, said that consumers are protective of their privacy and personal data and therefore data-led marketers and brands need to be transparent to ensure consumers are aware about how their data is being used.

Value: Consumers should be educated about the benefit of how behavioural data is being used to improve their experiences and interactions that are more relevant to them. Marketers need to be transparent for consumers to understand the potential value of their data being shared.

 Awareness: According to David Raab, principal of marketing technology research house and the Customer Data Platform Institute, awareness should be raised of obligations to enforce policies by monitoring what clients actually do with data they provide. Many marketers have been quite cavalier about this in practice. It’s possible other marketers with less data and less reliance on revenues from that data will decide this is not relevant to them. That would be a mistake from a compliance viewpoint and for their customer relationships.

The news has raised criticism across the globe around Facebook’s consumer data practices which put emphasis on companies to re-look their data policies and regulations as well as their marketing strategies. Less data inputs will be available for marketers to work with using paid media posting and advertising and marketers will no longer have access to the same type of sales funnel. It’s important for companies to start building their own communities and databases and ensure they manage their consumer data very carefully.