Cambridge Analytica: The bad poster-child for data misuse

The revolution of data collection has changed marketing and offered "insights into the way people behave," says Little M Media's Brian Reich.
Written by Tonya Hall on

The data breach at Facebook, perpetrated by Cambridge Analytica, has sent shockwaves throughout Facebook users. Communication strategist Brian Reich, of Little M Media, tells TechRepublic's Tonya Hall, "Over time, as we've gotten more conscious of privacy, or just our desire as consumers to control access to information about ourselves, or our behaviors online, or even offline, more and more rules and regulations have been put in place."

Watch the video interview above or read the full transcript below.

Tonya Hall: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. What should marketers and political campaigns take away from this? I'm Tonya Hall for ZDNet and joining me is Brian Reich. He's a partner at Little M Media. Welcome, Brian.

Brian Reich: Thanks for having me.

Tonya Hall: What do you do at Little M Media?

Brian Reich: We are communication strategists. I am a speech writer and a lot of focus on how people get and share information, and how to influence or shape the way they think or behave, through various forms of communication.

Tonya Hall: You actually started at one of the largest agencies in the world and served as an advisor at some high-level political campaigns, so you really have used this kind of data collection that we're going to talk about today, that's been getting a lot of attention at Cambridge Analytica. It got Facebook in some pretty big trouble. And gathering data on customers and markets is standard practice for agencies and campaigns, so why is the Cambridge Analytica story so important? What are the key facts here?

Brian Reich: Well, I think you have to start by just acknowledging that over the past, say decade, maybe 15 years, there has been a significant evolution in the way that we market, and a lot of that has been driven by the access to data and other insights into the way people behave. Of course, as it has evolved the rules and the norms have continuously changed. So back when it first started, it was much more of a wild, wild west, where all data that was being shared was out there and available for anybody. And I think in most cases people weren't really even aware of how much data was out about them.

And over time, as we've gotten more conscious of privacy, or just our desire as consumers to control access to information about ourselves, or our behaviors online or even offline, more and more rules and regulations have been put in place. So the thing to remember about this whole dust-up around individual local data and what Cambridge Analytica did, is there's a very well established and totally legal and appropriate practice of mining individual data and developing predictive intelligence or testing different ways in which you might motivate someone to click or buy or vote or whatever.

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But there are a fair number of people out there and Cambridge Analytica is probably the bad poster-child for this at the moment, who try to go beyond that, and either try to access data that has not been made available by the consumer or to misuse that data or misrepresent the stories they're trying to share, and similar to manipulate the user base. So the facts are, Cambridge Analytica broke the rules and broke the law but that does not mean that one bad apple should spoil the bunch here. The evolution of marketing continues and the more adept we get at individualizing messages and actions that we want people to take, not only will marketing improve but I would argue that the consumer experience will improve as well.

Tonya Hall: What if any consequences should Cambridge, Facebook or any other tech company actually face?

Brian Reich: Well look, the Cambridge Analytica people broke the law, violated privacy laws and they should be punished under the law for that. I would argue that they should probably have their permission, their capacity to work with this kind of data or work across these platforms taken away as well, which is the types of things you would see in any other field where somebody broke those rules.

If you were in healthcare and you violated someone's privacy rights there, you sell drugs or operate as a medical professional again. So they should I think be removed from the marketing world organizationally, and probably on an individual basis for those who were involved. On the Facebook side, I'm not going to defend Facebook, because I think they made some mistakes, and they're trying to figure out what those are and how to address them. I do know having been involved in this stuff for a while, that Facebook has addressed a number of the issues that were exploited by Cambridge Analytica already.

And so to some extent, the outrage that we're hearing and seeing is a little bit lag. It's a little bit behind when the possibility that a marketer could go in and exploit this kind of data has already been addressed. But I do think more understanding of this, of the privacy expectations of the consumers needs to be put out there. There needs to be some sort of regulations. Probably just raising the standards in the United States to be in alignment with the more stringent standards that you see in parts of Europe, for example. And maybe having some sort of universal set of rights and permissions that any marketer needs to adhere to anytime they're engaging a consumer.

Tonya Hall: But today, we basically sign our life away, every time we get on to a social platform and agree to them collecting our data. And realistically what expectation of privacy should people have in general? We actually ... are we fooling ourselves? Should we have any level of privacy on any site?

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Brian Reich: I come at this from a different angle. So first of all, I think if you sign on to a platform or if you put your information out there, then you are knowingly giving up a certain amount of your privacy. I happen to have no problem putting information about myself out there and I think I'm probably selective about the information that I choose to share. My example of that would be, I have young children, a ten-year-old and a seven-year-old, and very rarely will I post pictures of them or details about their lives, because I think I should be protecting their privacy more than my own for example.

But at same time, the opportunity of all this data being out there, is for marketers to individualize and enhance the consumer experience. And I think one of the biggest gaps that has been created here is that people believe that this data has not been used to the level of the personalization of the experience, so the consumers aren't seeing the value.

I'm giving your information to marketers, and I'm not getting anything in return. I could go right now on Amazon and I could search for a product and that ad for that product will haunt me for weeks on every other site that is visit. And what for some reason, even though my information is out there and I'm totally connected through all of Amazon and Google and Twitter and Facebook et cetera. In this transaction, if I buy that product, they don't then pull those ads down. And that's the most rudimentary example of how this individualization or personalization just is not living up to its promise and the expectations that consumers have.

I don't think we're fooling ourselves into believing we should have more privacy than we deserve if we're logging on and sharing intimate details of our lives. But I do think that if we're going to share those details that we should be getting something in return. And so it's really ... I would put the impetus on the marketing side of the world, on the political side of the world, to just do a better job of having these conversations and developing these relationships with consumers.

You have the knowledge to understand how to personalize that experience better than you are. Use it. And until you do, you should expect that people will be frustrated when they don't feel like they're being heard or they feel like their information is being exploited in some way that isn't in alignment with the expectations that they have.

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Tonya Hall: How specifically would you advise advertisers? I'm sure advertisers and agencies across the board are really thinking twice about this Facebook data exploitation and how they're going to use the data. What advice would you as far as vetting and thinking about how they're using it?

Brian Reich: I would say two things. One is we're all individuals, and we now have the availability of data to make the engagements that we have with consumers reflect the individual nature of that consumer. A marketer should be able to advertise very differently to you than to me or even to me and my wife, who live in the same apartment, but access Facebook or Google or any other site, through our own devices or in very different ways.

I would say remember that humans are ultimately who we are talking to and trying to persuade to think a certain way or take a certain action. And try and develop your campaigns with the ability to reflect that individualized humanity. The other is, remember this is a long-term engagement. I realize that so much of the digital world and commerce and marketing is driven by these short term, get someone to click, get someone to buy right now. But really, the foundation of that short term thinking is trickery. People are trying to trick you into buying something before they realize whether they need it or not.

If you're truly marketing something of value, if you are truly operating as an organization, whether it's on the client side or the agency side that cares about the consumer and not just meeting some weekly quota or quarterly bottom line, then you should feel perfectly confident developing that relationship over time, and recognizing people will come around and buy your product and appreciate your brand.

So the data has great value, but mix those two things together, the humanity, the individual nature and the power of the knowledge we have. Just think about this as a longer term relationship, and not a wham-bam-thank-you for buying, and then leave you on the side of some spreadsheet-type of interaction.

Tonya Hall: Well, that an interesting way to put it. You know, Brian I really appreciate your time. You are certainly very active and knowledgeable in the space of political campaigns and marketing and that intersection is all about the news right now. So if somebody wants to connect with you and find out more about the work that you do and maybe read one of your books in fact, how can they do that?

Brian Reich: You can always Google me. You got to spell it right and my Twitter handle is my name. So it's B-R-I-A-N-R-E-I-C-H.

Tonya Hall: Thanks again Brian for your time. If you want to follow me, you can do so right here on ZDNet probably Tech Republic or find me on Twitter @TonyaHallRadio or find me on Facebook by searching for the Tonya Hall show. Until next time.



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