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'Push back' on data laws, says Sorrell

News, 21 May 2015

BERLIN: The advertising industry needs to "push back" against international legislators' drive to limit the use of consumer data, WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said last night.

Speaking at the Interact 2015 conference in Berlin, he said reforms in data protection legislation being debated by the European Commission and national parliaments were "very fashionable", adding that public concerns about digital security and online fraud were often confused with the legitimate use of anonymised data by communications agencies.

"To some extent, I think we as an industry have brought this down upon ourselves," he said, explaining that by advocating opt-outs as a way of giving consumers control over the use of their data, the ad industry had failed to handle the debate as effectively as it should have done.

Now, however, the kind of regulation being discussed would be detrimental to the industry generally and to WPP specifically, harming their ability to target consumers effectively and efficiently – and their ability to give consumers the kind of advertising and content they're likely to want to engage with.

Sorrell said he expected legislators to seek curbs on the way third-party data can be used. "We want as much flexibility as possible in using it," he said. "The odds are, and I'd be prepared to put money on it, legislators being willing to be more active (on data protection). If we think it's wrong, we have to push back on it in a more active way."

The WPP stable includes Xaxis, which describes its expertise as using data and technology to help advertisers and publishers reach and engage with audiences at scale.

A headline at the time Xaxis launched – "Martin Sorrell knows all about you" – was indicative, he suggested, of the confusion surrounding the public debate. "It wasn't true. It's all got mixed up," he told the Berlin audience. "Anonymised data is valuable in terms of targeting advertising, targeting consumers, giving them what they want when they want it. It's not invasive or pilfered or used for other purposes."

Sorrell said the real issue was addressing security, not privacy. "If you managed to remove concerns about security, like Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the NSA, cybercrime and all of that sort of stuff … if we solve the security issue, which may be impossible, we solve the privacy issue."

Data sourced from Warc