"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Sharon Zezima, Chief Data Ethics Officer of Acoustic.
The ability for companies to navigate the data landscape grows more complex with each set of government regulations. The enactment of new regulations is naturally followed by increased litigation, and this can quickly make brands – and marketers in particular – even more cautious in their actions: Every day, our newsfeeds are filled with stories about “privacy.”
Unfortunately, though, just thinking about “privacy” isn’t enough. The issues and opportunities are much more expansive and require a systematic, global approach.
Consumers are increasingly involved in how their data is collected and used by brands, making them more invested in companies’ data practices. Privacy remains a priority, but there are other concerns when it comes to data collection, too.
This is the age of Data Ethics, and brands must prepare.
Step 1: Hire a Chief Data Ethics Officer
Moving from discussions of privacy and protection to discussions of ethics and trust requires not only a shift in perspective, but also a shift in people and processes. Hiring a Chief Data Ethics Officer (CDEO) affirms your company’s commitment to ethically sourcing data. This executive can be your company’s North Star for any data ethics conversations — internally with employees or externally with customers, partners and to create a broader industry dialogue.
The CDEO role is fairly new, but it stands to gain popularity as companies evolve the ways that they think about data processes. Searches on Glassdoor and LinkedIn don’t result in any CDEO-specific open roles, as of writing this piece in late May 2021. Openings for Chief Data Officers and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officers come close, but don’t encapsulate the full responsibilities of a CDEO.
Consumers today demand brands take ethics into consideration – get ahead of the curve by demonstrating your commitment.
Step 2: Establish Your Data Ethics Principles
Every company must take a fresh look at their data practices to establish an organizing set of principles that will guide them forward. I define data ethics as a means to ensure data is collected and used legally, morally, and fairly.
Understanding and adopting a data ethics mindset will help you to move from simply reacting to each new privacy mandate as it arises to creating a proactive stance and operating as a leader – for your customers and industry – rather than a follower.
Step 3: Reevaluate Your Processes
Now is the time to take stock of all the tactical efforts underway to address privacy and data hygiene. You’re likely in compliance with current laws and regulations, but are there any other processes you should establish to uphold your new data ethics principles?
Some companies like Apple and Google are taking a proactive approach to self-regulating when it comes to their data processes. While the debate continues around how effective their new practices will be, it’s clear these brands understand the power of public opinion and have taken steps to build trust with consumers.
We have yet to see how these changes will impact other companies’ data practices, but as the conversation around data is evolves, major brands are willing to go further than laws require to engender trust with consumers.
Step 4: Be Transparent
Just as the worldwide diamond supply chain has become subject to global scrutiny and consumer pressure, the same is happening to the data supply chain.
Brands must embrace this new reality now. Transparency is crucial to building trust. Begin the process of creating full transparency at every step and with every change of hands. In the near future, it’s very likely that transparency will become a non-negotiable component of every contract and partnership.
By giving consumers insight into how their data is collected, stored, used, shared, and deleted, you’re demonstrating that nothing malicious is happening behind the scenes. Make the effort to share updates, best practices, and different options for consumers so that they have the power to make choices around how their data is used.
Step 5: Continuously evaluate the accuracy and quality of your data
The ethical use of data also means ensuring the data you collect is accurate. Too often, brands let their data become dirty: outdated, inaccurate, incomplete, or duplicated. When brands store dirty data, they risk losing consumer trust when they use this information in a manner that doesn’t make sense or resonate.
For example, you may aim to engage with a mid-level manager at a retail company, but the contact you have on file has been promoted or left the company. The information you have is no longer accurate, so when you reach out with a marketing message, it doesn’t resonate, and the individual assumes you’re out of touch with their needs.
Build Trust Now and Reap The Reward
Depending on the role your company plays – supplier, advertiser, media, or infrastructure – you will approach the concept of data ethics differently.
By taking proactive steps to establish your Data Ethics practices, you’ll be able to fortify your company’s role in the ever-changing data landscape.