Global Advertisers Advised to ‘Do The Right Thing’

The World Federation of Advertisers, WFA, has launched a guide to its members on how they can go the data ethics way. It comes at a time where doing the right thing is becoming more of a must have that a nice-to-have. But who will be the first to walk the talk.

A survey from WFA of 147 senior executives at some of the world’s biggest brand owners found that 82% would consider leaving their current employer, if they felt the approach to data was not ethical, while 26% said they had already felt uncomfortable about the use of data at some point during their careers. 74% of the executives believes data ethics will be “more important” to their role in the next five years, with data collection and privacy issues already being seen as increasingly important as a result of COVID-19.

The survey is the foundation stone for a new guide Data Ethics – The Rise of Morality in Technology released by The World Federation of Advertisers. WFA consists of huge brands like Adidas, Airbnb, Booking,com, Ikea, Hasbro, Mars, Microsoft, SAP, Shell, Tesco, TomTom, Unilever and Volvo. Probably all of them are big users of personal data in advertising – some more aggressively than others. But all of them are now advised to use data in an ethical way.

Members of WFA are all very influential when it comes to big tech (a)busing data. They put a lot of money into advertising in e.g. Facebook and Youtube and with their data ethical behaviour they can certainly make changes. Just as Unilever back in 2018 warned Youtube and Facebook to clean up their platforms for e.g. extremist content and fake news, if they wanted their advertising money.

It is also Unilever’s Jamie Barnard, General Counsel – Global Marketing and Media, Unilever who authored the guide, which consists of four key principles:

  • 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.

The guide is making a reference to DataEthics.eu’s principles as well.

And IKEA is among the first-movers in this, as we wrote earlier. Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer, IKEA Retail (Ingka Group) says: “It is crucial for businesses to think beyond legal compliance and consider ethical aspects when it comes to consumer data. It’s no longer good enough to think only about what we can do with people’s data, the question must be what should we do.

Ikea and Unilever obviously both took the first baby steps into the data ethics era and are working on ways to implement their visions. Now, we will have to wait and see how they – and all the other big advertisers – really start walking the talk.

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Jamie Barnard will speak at the European Data Ethics Forum in October

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