WFA unveils world’s first guide on data ethics for brands


The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP) came into force just over two years ago, and to mark the event the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has published the world’s first guide for brands on data ethics in advertising.

Entitled Data Ethics – The Rise of Morality in Technology, the guide sets out what marketers need to consider so that their organisation always uses data ethically and takes the necessary action to promote the issue.

The WFA’s Data Ethics Board, chaired by James Barnard, Unilever’s general counsel of global marketing and media, spent a year working on the report, which was also bolstered by input from several other major companies, including AB InBev, L’Oréal, Mars, P&G, among others.

A central aim of the guide is to encourage companies to go beyond simply following the rules on data privacy and to embrace their spirit. In other words, to get brands thinking about the difference between what they are legally required to do with respect to data and what they should do.

Its publication comes as a new WFA survey of senior executives at some of the world’s biggest brands revealed 82% said they would consider leaving their current employer if they felt the approach to data was not ethical.

Meanwhile, three-quarters (74%) of CMOs said data ethics will be more important to their role in the next five years, and just half (48%) of all respondents confirmed their company currently had a data ethics policy.

To help remedy this, the WFA guide outlines four key principles that should underpin a data ethics approach – respect, fairness, accountability and transparency:

• 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.

Commenting on the initiative, WFA president Raja Rajamannar said: “The advertising industry is at a crucial juncture right now. Regulatory pressures around how companies collect and use personal data are mounting and public opinion is shifting.

“More than ever, people expect full transparency, control and choice over how their data is shared and used by companies. Any brands that ignore this shift will be left behind.

“We, as an industry, need to take a proactive approach and demonstrate to consumers that we respect them and their data. Data ethics is central to this: how can we as brands engage better with consumers to develop trust in a digital world?”

This article first appeared in

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