m/SIX launches data ethics unit: ‘Unethical practices will be liabilities’

WPP media agency m/SIX has created a Data Ethics Practice to manage the big questions arising in advertising around consumer privacy and tracking. Brands are increasingly concerned about getting above the rising tide of privacy.

Building on the WPP Data Ethics Compass initiative launched in 2021, m/SIX claims that the unit will promote fairer use of consumer data while holding “ethics and data privacy at its core.” The practice will be equipped to navigate around clients’ global or local issues (such as GDPR).

It will consider consumer privacy questions in programmatic where much of the conversations are focused, but also in the wider media such as out-of-home (OOH), TV and audio, which are becomimg more addressable, personalized and automatable.

It was spurred on by Google’s privacy-changing initiatives (once FLoC and now Topics). On privacy, m/SIX believes it can do better than sticking to technical standards that can change rapidly.

m/SIX believes that addressing ethical concerns will futureproof the business, give it a competitive advantage in the long term and help the agency treat people as people, not just eyeballs.

Carolyn Simpson, previously EMEA digital lead of the m/SIX Electronic Arts team, has taken on the role of data ethics lead. She tells The Drum that it has recognized three categories of risk to consider – risks of inequality, risks of harm and risks of unintended consequences.

She explains that inequality can be introduced through the use of biased data. “Actual harm could be introduced through, for instance, inappropriately targeting vulnerable audiences using sensitive data such as their health conditions, or simply collecting or misusing data from children.”

Another issue we’ve seen is around targeting. “Unintended consequences could include censoring choice. For instance, precise geographic targeting may exclude ethnic minorities from seeing a given offer.” We’ve also seen blocklists exclude audiences. Additionally, she points to “unsupervised AI.”

“While unethical practices could appear to deliver in the short term, long term these turn into liabilities. For instance, the legal and technical thresholds for data use will only ever increase. The risk to consumer trust as they become more aware of how marketers use their data will only increase too.”

The agency is still studying the practical ways in which to implement this thinking, but Simpson says clients such as Whirlpool and Toyota have started asking serious questions in the space, hinting at greater buy-in from conscientious brands.

Simpson and her team requisitioned from across the agency will report to Dylan Mouratsing, global head of data strategy. He adds: “Clients have been asking for our guidance in this area for many years – although not explicitly using the term data ethics. How we navigate the myriad solutions in a digital marketing world without cookies doesn’t just need a technical lens, but our clients are asking for a perspective that maximizes transparency and fairness at the same time.

“Similarly, since before GDPR was introduced, our clients’ data protection officers were not just looking to us for compliant solutions, but also those that met their own unique corporate values.”

The project will be a cornerstone of WPP’s wider work in the space, organized by the likes of WPP Open and GroupM.

This article first appeared on the Drum here

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