Data Ethics: Marketing’s new brand differentiator


Picture yourself ten years from now. You inadvertently find yourself in a legal battle. Back in 2018 you agreed to take a company’s loyalty card for a discount with little consideration for what it meant.  That data is now being used against you. Your lawyers say you have little hope of winning. The case is open and shut from a legal perspective. But who judges the ethics of data usage?




A Deloitte survey in the US found that over 90% of people agree to these terms and conditions without pausing to read them. 97% for 18-34 year olds.  Hell, I just said yes to an app this morning without blinking.

You can argue that it’s the individual’s fault if they don’t take the time to understand what they’re signing away.  But these numbers make it obvious that the current process doesn’t work. That perhaps the lawyers aren’t the best people to determine how to communicate a consumer’s rights to them. That we need to change the behaviour of how we engage with data and our rights to it.   

The GDPR regulation of the EU has gone a long way to address the privacy of individuals and the way in which an organisation can both collect and use that data.  It’s had profound impacts, no doubt helped by the Cambridge Analytica controversy, that will see similar policies adopted in the US. Australia, as it eventually does with these things, will follow.  

But this is still the lawyers talking to the lawyers (or worse, the politicians talking to the politicians).  It’s not addressing the individual’s behaviour, either inside or outside the organisation. And if things are complicated now, then just imagine what those policies will need to look like when AI takes over and we don’t even know what the robots are going to want to use that data for… but let’s save that one for another day.

Here’s a question; how many people inside your organisation know your data policy?

To quote that sage of data information law, Scribe: “Not many. If any”.  No, maybe it isn’t essential to their role or responsibility.  But would you expect an employee put into a frontline customer service position to behave respectfully?  ‘The customer’s always right’ and all that?

Yes. You would.

So isn’t time we started implementing a Data Ethics policy for the protection of both individuals and employees?  A simple guideline for expectations of how you, as a company, and you as an employee should treat and respect people’s rights to the data they share with your organisation?    

It’s a means of making those data points human again.

These ethics may not be as legally binding as the terms and conditions, but they have the potential to create a more human contract between your firm, your representative and your customers. A short, unambiguous set of principles.  

It needs two distinct parts;

  • Part A) A statement from the organisation on how it will treat any information they receive with privacy and the utmost respect, and how it will be used.

  • Part B)  An understanding from the consumer’s perspective that sharing information to the organisation will help to improve the service they receive from them.

Now listen up, this is the bit that makes this a business imperative…

If your organisation can’t articulate Part A then you need to reassess what and why you’re collecting data in the first place.  

It will allow you to cut through the clutter of your big data. Petabytes of noise that make it impossible for you to know what the important data points are for you to track.  If you aren’t using that data today, you’re unlikely to use it in the future. It’s a bit like taking hundreds of photos of your breakfast and thinking that at some point you’re going to curate those images into your own coffee table book.  It ain’t gonna happen.

Think of your Data as part of your Brand.  

Let its Purpose inform your Actions.  

Let your Disclosure make you Distinct.

Put your data ethics front and centre and your customers will respect you for your transparency.   

How many brands you know roll like this?

Not many, if any.



Author: John Halpin

John Halpin FutureFit, Data, Brand