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Cambridge Analytica: we're just the same as you

04 May 2018  |  David Pidgeon 
Cambridge Analytica: we're just the same as you

We've been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising.

That's what scandal-ridden Cambridge Analytica said late on Wednesday as it announced it was closing down.

There was no way it was going to survive - the bad publicity had seen clients and suppliers run for the hills and its legal costs were rising steeply - but interesting that the company chose to use those words.

As we have noted over the last few weeks, the entire issue of harvesting user data to serve political ads has made the public and their governments much more aware of the capabilities of advertisers more generally.

However, at its very worst, using personal data to sell people, say, toupees is annoying and possibly insulting. But at worst doing it to sell political ideas can undermine traditional democratic protocols entirely.

So will the stink from the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica debacle end up impacting adland by association?

Phil Stelter, MD of WPP-owned digital agency group SYZYGY, says Cambridge Analytica has been demonised more than others, but it has been doing the dirtiest of the dirty work.

"But the highly questionable practices of one company certainly doesn't tarnish the entire industry," he says.

"Cambridge Analytica et al may be especially nefarious, and though people who work in the online advertising sector won't have been entirely shocked by the revelations, they could be forgiven for not having anticipated the sheer extent of malpractice."

Is anyone winning in this turn of events? "Maybe consumers," Stelter says. "And certainly big tech's walled gardens - but definitely not advertisers in the near-term backlash."

In the absence of regulation...

Meanwhile, Paul Bainsfair, director general of the IPA, told Mediatel that he has been "uncomfortable" with the reported role of Cambridge Analytica in political advertising, which is why his team has taken steps to limit the style of political advertising the tech firm undertook.

"Even if Cambridge Analytica's actions were not outside the law, political advertising has unique properties that differentiate it from all other categories," he says.

"Firstly, its content is unregulated - it operates outside of ASA self-regulation. Secondly, it is effectively the only type of campaign that requires an open and transparent debate."

This is why the IPA has made two calls. The first is for a stop to microtargeted political advertising online - the form most at risk from abuse. The second is for a registry of all political advertising creative work that is accessible to all.

"The current online environment favours hyper provocative messaging as this drives engagement. In the absence of regulation, we need transparency to protect against the temptation of extreme messaging."

The Great Online Clean-up

For Julia Smith, director of communications EMEA, at Impact, a digital marketing specialist, the whole dirty business is simply disappointing because so much of the hard work the ad industry has put in to increase transparency and protect consumer data could now be undone.

However, as Cambridge Analytica closes its doors, Smith says we will see a "significant change" in how data is used.

"With GDPR just around the corner and tighter regulations on data use, this should ensure that there will be less infringements on people's rights, hopefully meaning that this scandal will have a positive effect on the industry," she says.

Certainly, the CA story landed just as adland was making much bigger steps to clean up its act. Indeed, on Thursday the IAB named the first 13 companies to be awarded its new Gold Standard - a seal that confirms that the companies' practices have met different criteria - which includes reducing ad fraud, obtaining certification for brand safety, and improving the digital advertising experience by adhering to specific IAB principles.

80 companies have now registered - and if you're optimistic, then you would hope entire supply chains could now be de-clogged of all the crap. See which businesses have gained the certificate here.


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01 Jul 2020 

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