What Facebook’s Latest Data Research Program Means for Marketers
By: Sophie Maerowitz
June 13, 2019
Facebook’s media relations team is not having an easy year. From an ongoing Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into the company’s privacy practices, to overall user trust issues following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company has suffered a reputation dive among consumers who no longer buy the company’s stated mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Instead, much of the public, perhaps by way of repeated negative media coverage, has come to see Facebook as a user data kingpin, purchasing and selling our shared experiences and content for commercial gain.
Aware of its trust issues (especially in the wake of massive European fines), Facebook, to its credit, is moving toward a more transparent model in its digital communications.
On June 11, Facebook announced the launch of new “reward-based market research program” Study, which will pay select Android users to allow Facebook to track app usage on their phones. Facebook will source Study signups through ads, and Facebook’s announcement (smartly) made sure to spell out specifics, outside of compensation amounts, before skeptical users start posting angrily about being openly targeted for market research by the tech monolith.
The press release listed the data being tracked by Study as follows:
- The apps installed on a participant’s phone
- The amount of time spent using those apps
- Participant’s country, device and network type
- App activity names, which may show the names of app features participants are using
Facebook’s new tack is nothing if not a call-to-action for transparency in data collection. So, what does this mean for marketers who rely on research, through focus groups, surveys, studies and third-party technology?
Though it may seem counterintuitive, it may be worthwhile to model Facebook’s approach to disclosure, at least in this case. Most companies won’t be chomping at the bit pay customers for their data—although paid studies have been a workable incentive for data collection since consumer marketing’s early days. However, breaking down the anatomy of the Study for Facebook announcement, likely pored over by an army of Facebook’s lawyers and PR professionals, can provide a blueprint for the next time your company conducts market research:
- Explain the goal of the research, with the understanding that, as Facebook’s team puts it, “what people expect when they sign up to participate in market research has changed.”
- Lay out exactly how data is being collected, and how users can opt in or out.
- Disclose if there are third-party services involved to increase accountability.
- Use visuals (screenshots, etc.) to model what consumers will see on their end.
- Reassure respondents that their data will be collected securely, and that you won’t sell information from the app to third parties or use it to target ads.
Today’s marketers need to be cognizant of how they’re getting data and know that today’s practices won’t necessarily be sustainable in the long term. The U.S. is seeing increased attempts at oversight by federal government, like in the current antitrust hearings against tech companies on Capitol Hill. Social media marketers will want to go through any longterm data mining practices with a fine-tooth comb, employing the assistance of a company lawyer or compliance consultant.
The trend in Europe of consumers protecting data, solidified by the passing of GDPR in 2018, has slowly but surely made its way stateside. Will your data practices pass muster? It’s crucial to find out.
Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz