Media reports around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have again raised privacy and transparency concerns. The alleged mishandling of consumer data by Cambridge Analytica does not reflect the professional standards and ethical principles practiced by the marketing research and data analytics industry when it collects, processes, shares and reports data. These requirements are embodied in the Insights Association's Code of Standards and Ethics.

While additional information exists and will become available about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story, a clear lesson is that we must secure the trust, confidence and engagement of the millions of individuals who expect their personal data will not be collected and used without their consent, and certainly not exploited. Violation of these principles is short-sighted and damaging to all.

In response, Facebook announced yesterday that it would contact users whose data had been used by Cambridge Analytica, investigate other apps used on their platform and restrict third-party developer access, among other steps. For a platform with 2 billion users, this is a substantial challenge.

As background, according to media reports, in 2014 an app became available on Facebook that purported to tell users about their personalities. About 270,000 users downloaded the app and consented to having their data collected for academic purposes. The app scraped information from their Facebook profiles as well as data from the profiles of their Facebook friends. At the time, Facebook permitted this practice but has since banned it.

The profile data of the app's Facebook users and their friends collected by the app – more than 50 million raw profiles – were subsequently used by Cambridge Analytica to target American voters to attempt to influence their behavior. Facebook became aware of how Cambridge Analytica obtained the data and required them to delete it, to which they purportedly agreed. However, a recent media report alleges that Cambridge Analytica still possesses the data.

Fundamental to this issue are the legal and ethical obligations of the marketing research and data analytics industry and profession to protect the privacy of personal data. The practices of Cambridge Analytica (which is not a member of the Insights Association) in this case did not comply with our Code of Standards and Ethics,violating principles of consent, transparency and data sharing.

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Regarding consent, only 270,000 Facebook app users agreed to provide personal data. Their approximately 50 million Facebook friends did not. Additionally, none consented to their data being shared, sold or used for non-research purposes. The Code requires disclosure and consent for data collection and processing.

Regarding transparency, the failure to notify Facebook app users about the true purpose of how the profiles were used – to individually target ads – was deceptive. There was no distinction between research and ad targeting which resulted in direct action being taken against individuals. This violated principles of honesty, transparency and straightforwardness when collecting and using personal data.

Regarding the sharing of data, specific consent is needed in order to use and share personal data with a third party. In addition, data collected cannot be used for purposes other than those for which it was collected. The Facebook app users did not consent to the sharing of their data beyond the app's author, and certainly not to Cambridge Analytica for their use.

Please contact me or our Vice President, Advocacy Howard Fienberg if you have questions concerning our Code of Standards and Ethics for Marketing Research and Data Analytics.

View a list of our Company and Corporate Research Department Members who have agreed to follow the Code. If you'd like more information on becoming a company or corporate research department member, or have questions about the membership status of your organization, please contact us.