See below for a statement put out by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA):
A former employee of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL revealed the unauthorized use of roughly 50 million Facebook users’ data to fulfill their clients’ political agendas. Articles in international media refer to the role the employee and his former Victoria-based colleague played in setting up the Canadian firm AIQ to serve Cambridge Analytica.
The unethical practices by Cambridge Analytica and others are salient and disconcerting, but one has to wonder if they are only the tip of the iceberg. The combination of social media, AI, big data, and the ever-evolving technological landscape is presenting opportunities like never before, but not always for the better. The issue of “data ethics” and privacy will likely be the source of considerable public and media scrutiny for the foreseeable future. So what can companies in the field of big data and insights do to protect their brands and ensure they have the public trust?
Honesty, professional responsibility, transparency, data protection, and privacy are central to the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) Code of Conduct. MRIA is Canada’s professional association for standards, advocacy, and certification in marketing research, public opinion research, and insights. The actions of Cambridge Analytica and AIQ would have been clear and flagrant violations of MRIA’s Code, had they been members.
MRIA has a Code of Conduct that addresses ethics, privacy, and protection of both participants’ rights and information. The MRIA Charter of Respondent Rights puts the priority of the respondent above all others. Technology has changed the speed, quantity, and quality of data gathering. Consumers today are often unaware that their data are collected and how the information is used. However, the principles of ethics and integrity remain constant for the MRIA. The ethical principles to maintain public confidence and integrity in work produced by MRIA members are not a choice; they are the standard they must follow. Unethical behaviour by one has an impact on every agency or organization that uses participants’ data.
Members of the MRIA are intended to uphold ethical behaviour and practice, and they are not only held accountable by their peers, but also data collection agencies are regularly audited to ensure they follow the standards. Clients who commission marketing research studies have a vital interest in ensuring that there is integrity in the collection and release of research studies because we are all dependent on the public to provide the insights and to consume our products. The reputation of marketing research firms and their clients is a priceless asset that takes years to earn, and one ethical lapse can squander this invaluable asset in the blink of an eye.
The MRIA and its sister organizations globally are gravely concerned. We support the positions taken by associations representing the profession in Europe, ESOMAR, and the United States Insights Association.
Members of the public are justified in being angry and concerned. Research firms, insight practitioners, clients and media who use marketing research, and giant social media firms that gather and hold millions of personally-identifiable profiles must take notice and act responsibly.
As the standard bearers of professional integrity in the self-regulating field of research and insights, the MRIA is calling on all stakeholders to work together in protecting the public’s interest. It is vital that ethics be the top priority in this new era of big data; the wild west attitude that led—and perhaps even encouraged—the actions by Cambridge Analytica must become a thing of the past, lest it continue to erode public trust.