Scott McDonald, Ph.D. – President & CEO, ARF
I opened the conference by laying out the proposition that science – dispassionate, methodical, skeptical, collegial, evidence-based, theoretically-grounded science – is core to the ARF’s mission. I argued that science in the study of marketing and advertising – science in the service of better business decisions – has been in the ARF’s DNA since its founding and remains central to our activities and programs today. Facts matter and the discovery of facts is our most important job as professional researchers.
However, I ended by noting that facts are not the same as values, that while facts can be wrested from a complex universe by close observation and disciplined experiment, values can’t be “proven” in the same way as facts. Rather, they arise from some shared understanding of what we regard as right, as ethical, as decent or fair. A single-minded focus on matters of fact can still leave us blind to the ethical implications of our work. It might sound abstract and academic, but it was brought home to me by the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s purported deceptive acquisition of 50M Facebook profiles for use in the campaign to elect Donald Trump.
What ethical guidelines guide the use of “secondary data” collected for some other purpose, but now used for research? What responsibility do researchers have to ensure that the data they are using were collected legally, without any deception? What rights do consumers have to know about and approve the uses to which their data are put? What obligations do researchers have to protect consumers from harm that might come from the misuse of their data? What ethical guidelines should govern profiling and highly-targeted communications?
The reality is that the ability of technology to collect data is outstripping the guidelines in place to ensure that sound business practices are being followed. Just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should. The Cambridge event is a reckoning, not a revelation.
Let me be clear. The issue is that we should establish and comply with ethical guidelines not to ward off government intervention, but because it is good for our business. Consumer data is not ours, it belongs to consumers, and if we possess it and use it in any form, we have a responsibility to respect it – and the consumer who provided it.
To that end, the ARF today is calling for development and establishment of guidelines and standards to govern consumer data collection and protection. We invite all industry members and industry bodies to join with us to not only contribute ideas and thoughts but to work with their constituents to ensure adoption once developed.
The ARF feels compelled to make this call as we are the industry body set up to advance the understanding and practice of advertising through science and reason and we do so on behalf of all participants in the industry – buyers and sellers, creators and marketers. As such, it is our responsibility to lead in getting this initiative underway.
As a first step to this objective, the ARF, in collaboration with GreenBook and the AMA New York, is hosting a Town Hall on Thursday, April 26th at the ARF. Invited speakers will discuss the gap between our current codes of research ethics and the realities of data-driven marketing and research. The goal will be to form a working group that can draft, for further debate and consideration, a proposed code of conduct that is relevant to our world of 2018 and beyond. The proceedings will be live-streamed to facilitate participation by our far-flung member base and geographically dispersed stakeholders. I invite all of you to participate and give us input.
We need consumer data to advance the needs of our industry. But to continue to have the right to access that data we must demonstrate respect for our partner, and value to a greater extent the courtesy our partner has extended us.
In doing so, we will not only enhance our business, but fulfill the responsibility of ethical and respectful behavior that is the foundation of this or any relationship.
To register for the Town Hall, click here.