Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and GDPR: What are you doing to protect customer data?

If the furore around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has taught us anything, it's that people are now more conscious than ever of how their data is being used.

by Darren Thackeray

If the furore around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has taught us anything, it's that people are now more conscious than ever of how their data is being used. Whether you believe that Facebook was complicit in the alleged breach, or simply an innocent bystander that was taken advantage of by Cambridge Analytica, is almost irrelevant. The outcome is the same; individuals have become concerned and hyperaware of what information they're putting on the web. This will have major ramifications for businesses up and down the country who are trusted with customer data every single day. If customers don't trust you with their data, they're less likely to want to do business with you. This is one of the many things the new GDPR legislation will help fix. More on that in a moment. First, let's take a brief look at what really happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. 

Facebook & Cambridge Analytica: a turning point? 

The history of Cambridge Analytica is murky, initially established by Steve Bannon when he approached donors Rebekah and Robert Mercer to fund a political consulting firm. Of course, Bannon become Vice President of the firm and eventually Donald Trump's closest aid, but that's all beside the point we're trying to make. We're looking at data. Cambridge Analytica hired the help of a researcher at Cambridge University to create a Facebook app. The app was an innocent looking quiz, like the thousands already on Facebook, which collected data from people who took. This in itself isn't unusual and is a perfectly valid way of gathering audience data for targeted advertising. This app, however, exposed a loophole in the Facebook API that allowed it to collect data from the friends of the users who took the quiz, as well as the quiz takers themselves. 

While those taking the quiz will have consented to their data being collected, their friends who didn't take the quiz won't have had the opportunity to do so. Their data, in effect, was stolen. To give you a sense of scale - 270,000 people took the quiz, yet the data of 50 million people was collected. The allegation is that this data was then used to sway votes with targeted advertising in everything from Brexit to the US elections. It's little wonder that, as a result, people feel betrayed or distrustful of large companies like Facebook. 

And that's the turning point. Data has been hot topic for years, but it's events like this that really bring data protection into the front of the public's mind. We saw #DeleteFacebook trending on Twitter as their stock price fell by 7% in a matter of days. Guides on how to increase your privacy on Facebook started popping up all over the web. People became very worried because they sensed their trust was being betrayed. "Data is the new oil!" is what people have started saying. But what does all of this mean for your business? 

People are more reluctant to trust companies and share their data, and that could prove problematic for marketers. 

Protecting your customers' data is more vital than ever

Many businesses use customer data - like birthdays, marital status, hobbies and interests - to market themselves more effectively. It's a perfectly good way to do business, and if it's done right the benefits are felt on both sides. The business will secure more leads and sales by being able to target customers that are likely to buy, and consumers will receive more relevant advertising and a more personalised service. If you take away that data, your business will struggle to compete with its competitors. That's why it's more vital than ever before to demonstrate to your customers that their data is safe and sound with you. If their data is leaked or stolen it will likely get sold to the highest bidder. This can result in anything from unwanted sales calls to identity theft and more. 

Cybercrime is more prevalent than ever before, and the revelations around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are only pushing data protection further into the spotlight. Fortunately for consumers through the EU (which still includes the UK), GDPR will be enforced soon which should bring some peace of mind at least. 

Why GDPR is the answer

Simply put GDPR will put much of the control around data back into the hands of the consumer. As of May 25th, 2018, consumers will be able to request what data is being held about them and they will have the right to be forgotten and, more importantly, get greater clarity on transparency on how their data is being used. It's down to businesses to negotiate how this is implemented, but it must be done or they could face hefty fines. 

Business shouldn't fear GDPR. They should welcome it. 

GDPR might cause some headaches in the short term, but it will make your prospective customers feel more at ease when it comes to sharing their data with you. In the current age of digital advertising, that's really important. Another thing your business can do to make customers feel reassured and more likely to open up to you, is offer real value in exchange for the data you're asking for. You can't expect them to give up their information without offering something in return - so that's something to consider when building a marketing strategy. 

Always remember, you don't own your customers' data - you're simply borrowing it for a while... 

If you're concerned about data protection and the incoming GDPR legislation, why not give us a call on 01442 217099? We can offer advice on the best technology practices to keep your customer data safe, and even carry out and on-site healthcheck to identify any vulnerabilities in your current set up. Don't let GDPR catch you out - we'll make sure you business remains compliant with EU law.