Consumers need trust in data protection

The marketing industry has already failed to ward off one raft of data regulation – the EU’s ePrivacy Directive – but it seems determined not to be pinned down further by EU officials.


Last week trade bodies including the IAB, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) clubbed together to write to the UK government, warning that any more restrictive data laws could effectively strangle innovation in data marketing. They would make it almost impossible for Europe to produce thriving digital businesses to rival Facebook or Google, for example.

They were complaining about recent EU proposals for a single data protection law, which, among other things, would require marketers to get informed consent before using any customer data for marketing purposes.

The letter said: “Importantly, the proposals do not just risk chilling the evolution of business models, they would also place significant burdens on existing businesses, in the form of unnecessary and burdensome red tape. Rather than saving businesses money, we believe that the proposals will make it more difficult to do business in the UK and across international borders.”

Their complaints are valid, as far as they go. But the opposing argument shouldn’t be ignored either. Oddly enough, it is the DMA that has provided it, in its research into how businesses can respond to the existing ePrivacy Directive.

As Marketing Week reported last week, the DMA says the legislation doesn’t need to be thought of as a hindrance to business. The law requires websites to ask web users consent before placing behaviour-tracking cookies on their browsers.

DMA public affairs director Caroline Roberts says: “Lots of people are very concerned about how their privacy and data is used so the answer is to be transparent and promote the benefits.”

And Google, similarly, has said that expanding the control that it gives users over their data has led to them being better able to provide targeted advertising. So rather than throttling innovation, being more serious about seeking informed consent can actually make a business’s data more commercially productive.

Whether or not you like the idea of more government regulation – and you probably don’t – the fact is that marketing is becoming a more targeted discipline, and marketers increasingly need to provide personally relevant messages in order to cut through.

Being relevant means getting users to tell you their preferences willfully. That’s the way to get reliable, accurate data, and it’s also the way to make consumers more open-minded about receiving targeted marketing.

But it also requires companies to overcome the trust issue by making sure customers know exactly what will happen to their information, and how they can control those processes.

The DMA appears to have recognised this, even while taking an anti-regulation stance on the prospect of further data laws. So even if it’s worth arguing that more legislation is not the way to go, being more transparent about asking for consent is something all marketers should want to do anyway.

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