Education will protect consumers as well as the law

As much as there are very real needs to protect consumers from the vagaries of the unscrupulous using their data for pernicious means, consumers do not need the level of protection from brands that lawmakers in Brussels believe that they do.

Russell Parsons

What is required, however, is education.

On May 26, the one year grace period extended to those using online behavioural advertising techniques will end and companies looking to capture data will have to receive consent from users to continue to do so.

On the horizon, the data protection directive that has just set off on a long-journey through the European Union administrative machine that could see the kind of changes – explicit consumer consent before any data is used for one – likely to torpedo the effective use of many marketing channels.

There is a consensus between companies and the European Commission that changes need to be made to make data privacy and protection laws fit for the internet age. Beyond that, however, there is little agreement.

Rather than prescription, what is needed is transparency on the part of brands. A coordinated effort is required that spells out what brands are collecting data for, what they do with it and, most importantly how consumers, if they still wish to, can check the use of their data for marketing means.

In the main, consumers, according to many and varied reports, are apathetic at worst about the use of their data by marketers. Those that do bristle, do so because of a fear of the unknown and because of the rather portentous nature of phrases such as cookies, online behavioural advertising and targeting.

Brands and industry associations should first seek the blessing of government and then develop an educational campaign explaining in digestible language what it is that they are doing. The use of data should not be confined to terms and conditions it should be front and centre on home pages.

By doing so, EC regulators will more likely to work with industry to find mutually beneficial solutions, protecting both consumers and marketers.

Honesty, transparency and accountability by brands are more likely to protect consumers than autocratic rule makers.

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