Direct marketers should fear the public more than politicians on data

It has long been said that regulation lags behind public opinion by years. This is particularly true of European Union regulation, which takes years after it is first proposed to become law in 27 member states.

Russell Parsons

The Data Protection Laws currently making their way through Brussels are no different. First proposed in January 2012 they are unlikely to see the light of day until later this year at the earliest, more likely 2015.

It is forgivable then if marketers are a little under prepared. A report by the Direct Marketing Association finds that preparing for the law changes is a priority for just two in three (67 per cent) businesses.

Not a bad a return, I think, considering we are not yet sure what the final laws will look like but it is obviously of grave concern to the DMA, which wants to see all of its members and all those delivering one-to-one communications fully prepared for whatever the outcome.

Direct marketers need to be prepared but not just because of the consequences of non-compliance with regulation.

To recap, the text currently on the table requires brands to gain explicit consent from people before processing data of any kind. It also requires them to inform customers “clearly, understandably and transparently” about how their data will be used.

Although not yet law, these are increasingly the minimum requirements of consumers. A recent report from data privacy consultants TrustE found growing concern over privacy with data use the biggest driver of their unease. An overwhelming majority of consumers were less likely to click on online ads because of privacy concerns, the report found.

This should be the real cause of concern for brands. Consumers are already demanding the sort of rethink the European Union will soon insist upon – transparency and a true value exchange when giving up data.

In the press release accompanying its report, the DMA’s chief executive Chris Combemale said apocalyptically: “The potentially damaging EU Data Protection Regulation is bearing down fast on us”.

It could be damaging, particularly for those brands that fall short. But it is the consequences of falling short of consumers’ expectations that is potentially more damaging. As Combemale himself puts it “[The] rapidly shifting consumer attitudes to data privacy should be ringing alarm bells in the board room of every business that’s involved with one-to-one communications.”

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