Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the data breach yesterday ©Olivier Douliery/ABACA USA/PA Images
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the data breach yesterday ©Olivier Douliery/ABACA USA/PA Images

Advertisers demand answers from Facebook on data scandal

22 March 2018

The trade body representing some of the UK’s biggest advertisers will meet Facebook on Friday to discuss privacy concerns after the tech firm became embroiled in a massive data breach.

ISBA has said it will ask for details about what Facebook would be doing to investigate the scandal and “reassurances” over the implications for the public and advertisers. ISBA members spend around £2.42bn on marketing annually, which represents 72% of the top 50 advertisers’ ad budgets.

Facebook has recently been embroiled in scandal over allegations UK-based firm Cambridge Analytica used the platform to harvest data from more than 50m Facebook users that it then used for targeted political advertising during the EU referendum and the US presidential election.

Phil Smith, director general of ISBA said: “When we meet with Facebook tomorrow we want to understand the scope of the inquiry Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday. We want reassurances for our members that it will get to the bottom of the issues and any implications for the public and for advertisers

“Advertisers want reassurances that the places they chose to place their advertising are responsible and transparent as ultimately this reflects on their brands.”

In a position paper published earlier this week ISBA called the reports “deeply concerning” and raised the possibility that Facebook data has been used improperly elsewhere.

So far top brands including Unilever, P&G and Coca-Cola are staying silent on whether the Cambridge Analytica scandal will change the way they spend their digital marketing budgets.

Unilever in particular, whose CMO threatened to pull its advertising spend from top tech companies including Facebook if they acted unethically, has failed to respond to repeated inquiries from SM into whether it is reviewing its position with the tech giant.

Other big advertisers including P&G and Coca-Cola declined to comment.

In February, Unilever CMO Keith Weed said he told partners at Facebook, Google and other tech giants: “Unilever as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today, David Kershaw, chief executive of advertising agency M&C Saatchi, said he expected ISBA to “exert real pressure” on Facebook.

He said: “I think that [advertising] clients have come to a point quite rightly where enough is enough and ISBA... I don’t think they’re bluffing. They are going to exert real pressure and I think clients and agencies would say, “Not before time.’”

Kershaw added digital marketing was a “very strong oligopoly” dominated by Facebook and Google, and these firms would be unlikely to change their behaviour until advertisers started to leverage their spend. There was no evidence this was happening yet, he said.

“The test will be whether we see Facebook making real moves... I think that the advertising community will want to see genuine demonstrations of greater self policing, or if not policing from outside,” he said.

Prime minister Theresa May said in Parliament yesterday that, as far as she was aware, government did not have any current contract with Cambridge Analytica or its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL). 

However Downing Street confirmed to SM there have been at least three government contracts with SCL in the past: a Ministry of Defence data project from 2014-15, a Home Office training contract in 2009 and a Foreign and Commonwealth Office communications contract in 2008-09.

Ian Makgill, founder and managing director of tender database OpenOpps criticised the government for not having listed these contracts on public databases. “We have all the public data on contracting going back to 2007 and I can't find a single one of these contracts,” he said.

Makgill added government has always been good at contractually protecting itself from potentially “unscrupulous or unethical” suppliers but was still vulnerable to unintentionally using personal data collected from the public. “Much of this data is stored in systems run by private companies, some of whom may not reach the ethical standards that government would expect them to have,”" he said.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a government watchdog, is currently investigating Cambridge Analytica for potentially having acquired and used Facebook data illegally, as part of a wider investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes. It has applied for a warrant to obtain access to Cambridge Analytica’s data and information.

Cambridge Analytica said it obtained the Facebook data in question from another company and has subsequently deleted this data. It also claims Facebook data was not used as part of the firm’s services to Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign. It said it is cooperating with the ICO.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the data breach in an interview with CNN yesterday and said the firm would review thousands of third-party apps that use the platform’s data.

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