Apocalyptic predictions are not helpful

Last month, the Information Commissioner told a gathering of direct marketing professionals that they must stop sniping from the sidelines about what they see as the apocalyptic impact changes to data protection laws will bring, “get real” and except major changes are inevitable because of legitimate consumer concerns over the use of personal data.

Russell Parsons

A bristling Christopher Graham argued brands need to take their responsibilities more seriously than they are and adopt a “compliance not defiance” approach to data protection.

The data protection regulation currently passing through Brussels has been the subject of considerable ire in the marketing community. In its current state, it is predicted it will lead to the end of DM. Much horse trading will happen over the next few years before anything approaching new EU-wide laws are required.

Member states opposed to proposals as they are will argue long and hard for changes. What will strengthen the hands of the UK government and others member states that have expressed concern over the possible detriment consent, profiling and right to be forgotten measures could cause to the marketing industry is if companies domiciled in the respective countries demonstrated a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty, current and possible future laws.

In a very roundabout and very much unexpected way, Google are about to illustrate how this could be done. The search giant was recently found guilty in the US of collecting personal data from Street View users without authorisation. It was handed a $7m fine and forced to launch an employee training programme on data privacy and a campaign to educate consumers on the best ways to ensure data security.

Companies handling that volume of data shouldn’t be forced to embark on training initiatives, they should be mandatory. Neither should industry have to be poked into educational campaigns, there should be full blooded cross industry drives to inform consumers what, why and how data is used and how they can block use of data for marketing purposes.

Member states, driven by trade bodies lobbying on behalf of the marketing industry will secure concessions from the European Commission and, if a recent report in the Financial Times is to be trusted, already have.

However, significant changes are inevitable and will be even more onerous if the industry doesn’t show a willingness to “comply” and not defy” as Graham put it. This way, member states can proudly boast of proactive measures being taken, which is more likely to lead to opposers receiving a more sympathetic hearing.

Change is coming. But it can be mitigated.

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