The size of the potential penalty Facebook is facing in Australia over the Cambridge Analytica scandal is one of the few fines that may be large enough to move the needle on data compliance, argues former Cambridge Analytica employee turned data advocate Brittany Kaiser. 

Speaking to an audience of Australian marketers during a webinar hosted by Verizon Media today, Kaiser noted the fines issued for data breaches were not significant enough to create the necessary disincentives.

“I really think that a lot of the civil fines that are being offered as punishments are invoices that are easily paid by these big companies and it’s not a real incentive to take data protection compliance seriously,” she said. 

Brittany Kaiser.

“Funnily enough, the best civil case I’ve seen so far has been in Australia … the amount of money that would actually be a part of the fine would be more than Facebook is currently worth today.” 

Last month Australia’s privacy watchdog commenced legal proceedings against Facebook, alleging it failed to protect more than 300,000 Australian users’ data that was collected by the app at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Each potential breach could attract a fine up to $1,700,000, which could total $529 billion

“That is actually an incentive, not an invoice Mark Zuckerberg can pay the same day and still make that amount of money in a rise in stocks due to the PR.” 

UK and US watchdogs have already fined Facebook £500,000 and US$5 billion respectively over the Cambridge Analytica incident. When the US fine was announced Facebook’s stock rose, $6 billion to its market cap, as the fears of regulation faded. 

Kaiser predicted there would be a further push for criminal liability for negligence around privacy breaches. She cited US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Corporate Executive Accountability Act introduced to US Congress last year, which would introduce criminal penalties for CEOs. 

More broadly, she argued marketers need to get the balance of ethics right now and not wait for legislation to determine how the data economy should be regulated. 

Kaiser, former a Business Development Director at Cambridge Analytica, testified before British parliament and in 2019 launched the Own Your Data Foundation to raise awareness of data rights and promote digital literacy education. She believes the last few years are some of the most important in shaping the future of technology. 

Changes are coming

And the way marketers have done business for many years is already starting to change thanks to privacy legislation and the demise of cookies. 

“The typical access that you could get to everything from offline data sets to online data sets generated by cookies, is going to be a little bit more difficult for the next few years while we figure out what ethical compliance looks like,” she said. 

“There is compliance with the law which is the bare minimum that you should be doing for data protection in cybersecurity standards. But then there’s ethics, on top of that which is, [asking] even if the law allows you to do it should your company be using data in that way? 

“And finally, we’re starting to have real conversations at the corporate and government levels, discussing what we think that should look like.”

Kaiser argued there should be a higher bar for regulations, bringing it above minimum privacy and cybersecurity considerations, but while those laws are being debated in parliaments around the world marketers need to be transparent with consumers about how their data is used and acknowledge how a dwindle data supply may affect their business. 

“I really do believe that the more ethical you are about data protection and about privacy, the more trustworthy relationship you’re going to have with your consumers, especially in the marketing industry where so much of digital marketing ends up with fraud.” 

“You could actually probably increase your ROI quite a lot if you had a transparent data relationship with your consumers.” 

Kaiser argued marketers have an opportunity to have an open, transparent relationship with consumers which provides a better value experience for consumers by asking for their data directly rather than purchasing or licensing data behind the scenes. 


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