With the amplified concerns over third-party data sharing due to the recent Facebook stories regarding Cambridge Analytica (the political data firm hired for President Trump’s campaign in 2016), it is important that all stakeholders take a reflective moment to understand third-party data sharing as a value as well as the proper ethical standards that govern data collection, use and sharing with legitimate, professional third parties.
Let’s be clear, the issues raised by unapproved data sharing by anyone — whether it is Facebook, your favorite online retailer, your local car dealer, or a local charity — is a breach of trust that must be immediately and fully rectified. There is an expectation that if you interact with a company, that company values you as a customer or donor and thus it values your choices about your data. All reasonable stakeholders in the data process understand this.
However, on the opposite side of the scale, there are extreme calls to ban all data sharing. But a complete restriction of any data sharing is a major devolution from where we have traveled. A total data blackout will lead to unintended consequences of limited information that would no longer provide the beneficial user experience all users in the online world expect in today’s digital economy. All reasonable stakeholders understand that data must be used, processed and shared to inform an intelligent communication with the end user. Otherwise it turns a mobile app or your online platform into a bad data experience with online clutter that is no longer relevant to you.
At the Data & Marketing Association, we have been at the helm of the consumer data conversation for decades. Yes—from mailings to faxing to today’s cross-device and cross-platform experience—we have been representing the marketer’s voice with consumers. The good news is that we are not hearing that individuals want to go back in time to the data-poor mass marketing approach. Instead, consumers (by the thousands) seek more choices and better-directed ads. Third-party data sharing is the solution since it is the sharing of data between a publisher (the first party) and the recipient processor (the third party) that properly enriches data and broadens data uses for the benefit of the consumers.
But what about a consumer’s choice and desire for full transparency? It is very important to remember that when a consumer interacts with a company there are reasonable privacy and accountability expectations that organizations must honor. This means that the consumer, regardless of their experience or background, expects an organization to serve them and to honor their choices by providing robust notice about the data collection process, who to contact if there is a concern, what type of data is being collected and how to opt out of the further dissemination of the data. All companies must respect the consumer through a robust set of choices.
We seem to be in a place where the dialogue about proper consumer interactions has been lost. Instead, a broader concern over data sharing has led to a harsh new push to stop legitimate data practices and to instead place the onus on advance/prior consent mechanisms. This is not practical or necessary if we respect and provide choices. The industry and its customer base are stronger if the choice is given throughout the process rather than an “in-or-out” mechanism only.
Under DMA’s standards, companies must provide consumers with robust notice, choice and opt-out mechanisms that function properly throughout the many interactions that the customer has with the company regardless of the medium or the channel. DMA’s new Data 2.0 Standards guidelines were shaped by the best data marketing practitioners who recognize the important balance between proper data sharing and proper consent by consumers. To provide these choices, is the consumer engaged at the outset – for example at the point of the data collection, at the point of purchase, at the earliest communications with the company. The company must then properly process that information and use it to make the product or service relevant for the customer and its future customers and ideally better, depending on the measurable results from the data. To do this, guess what the company relies on? Not simply the consumer and the direct interactions with that customer, but valued third parties. They bring forth other bands of data—the other customers, or those that decided not to purchase, the analytics for the campaign, other data insights from trusted and accountable third parties and previous campaigns.
The key is to ensure that the third party you are working with is hand in glove with you. You must do your own review of each and every one of the third-party providers you are working with and have legal agreements to ensure proper accountability. Otherwise, without the aid of legitimate outside companies and proper data sharing you will be alone in the complex data process and you will have less intelligence to rely on for your business now and in the future. If current concerns over data sharing go down the wrong path, the days of smart data and intelligent campaigning – political or commercial, will be lost.