Every day should be data protection day

Data protection day is not a day that will resonate as much as other celebratory days or public holidays. Its purpose – to raise awareness of data privacy among consumers, lawmakers and companies  – should, however, be of concern every single day. 

Russell Parsons

Tomorrow is data protection day, or data privacy day as it is known outside Europe. It marks the passing in to law of the first pan-European data protection regulation – on 28 January 1981.

The volume of data generated and the opportunities available to brands to capture, chew over and use data today would have been unimaginable in 1981. 

Social media, mobile, cookies, the ‘internet of things’ have all provided direct marketers with seemingly infinite possibilities to target based on behavior.

And they have, and then some, with some fantastic results in terms of return on investment.

But the dizzying array of marketing opportunities is not good news for all. Detractors complain about erosion of personal privacy and about brands being surreptitious in gaining consent. There are also complaints that the data insight used to serve users’ behavior-based ads is clumsy and well, just plain annoying.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that data use and capture should be top of a direct marketers priority list in 2014. All recent studies, including one this week by GlobalWebIndex that found 56 per cent of people are worried about the internet eroding their personal privacy – up from 50 per cent two years ago, point to growing mistrust.

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell added his thoughts on this last week. Writing a blog for The Huffington Post, he said: “Businesses, like governments, are going to have to work harder to show the benefits that “big data” brings to consumers and economies, to educate the public about how that data is handled, and to demonstrate that companies are responsible custodians of people’s information.

“Opt-out is no longer an acceptable strategy. And opt-in has to be clarified and simplified for the consumer.”

Wise words. In particular his concluding point. The Data Protection Directive currently the subject of horse-trading in Europe has many flaws. Its current stipulation that brands must gain explicit and not implicit consent, however, is necessary to ensure the data economy continues to thrive.

Consent through failure to explicitly opt-out is not permission and is only likely to fuel the concerns of very vocal detractors, as well as the public at large. It is not enough for a direct marketer to congratulate himself or herself on a consent job well done because a minimum requirement box has been ticked. There is no meaningful exchange between brand and target there.

The opt-in needs to be transparent and mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that there is a clear desire for data to be used when consent is offered.

The legalese language and box-ticking mentality needs to be dumped. The approach should be what do people need to know to make an informed decision on consent not what brands have to let people know according to the law. 

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