Stressing Transparency, Fairness, WFA Publishes New Data Ethics Report

Published on the second anniversary of implementation of the EU’s GDPR regulations, The World Federation of Advertisers has launched a new guide for brands on data ethics in advertising.

The new guide, “Data Ethics – The Rise of Morality in Technology”  follows research from the group that shows that 74% of CMOs believe data ethics will be more important to their role in the next five years. Those CMOs also say issues around data collection and privacy have become a higher priority as a result of the pandemic.  

The survey also found that 82% of respondents would consider leaving their current employer if they felt the approach to data was not ethical. Twenty-six percent of the 147 respondents have already felt uncomfortable about the use of data at some time during their careers.



The guide was a year in the making and based on work by the WFA’s Data Ethics Board, chaired by Unilever’s General Counsel – Global Marketing and Media, Jamie Barnard. Companies including AB InBev, Diageo, Ferrero, Ikea, L’Oréal, Mars, Mastercard, P&G, Shell, Unilever and Visa, among others were also represented on the board. 

“Lockdown has re-emphasized to all of us the importance and value of technology,” stated Barnard, the report’s author. “So there’s no better time to review our data ethics and look to design a digital future that enhances people’s lives and protects them in equal measure. I hope this report will be an important step towards striking this balance.”  

The guide outlines four key principles that should underpin a data ethics approach:

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.

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.

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.

The guide can be downloaded here.

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