Data Protection Act will not mean great changes

The Data Protection Act should not cause much upheaval, as marketers should have been following a responsible code of practice anyway.

Last week saw the introduction of the second phase of implementing the 1998 Data Protection legislation. The primary implication is that every company in the UK is now legally required to disclose any personal data they possess about someone – on request, for a fee of &£10 and within 40 days. So, the balance of rights moves a step further away from companies and back to the individual.

This has implications for all companies, and many small companies, including online businesses, are concerned about the logistics and time costs of collating and passing information back to consumers. But the Data Protection Act (DPA) is there primarily to protect consumers. Businesses – especially those in the financial, retail and travel sectors – will continue to benefit from the information they gather on their own customers, albeit in a more transparent way.

The other changes brought in with the new legislation are that data must be: obtained fairly and lawfully, held only for specific and lawful processes, not processed in any matter incompatible with these purposes, relevant, adequate and not excessive, accurate and up to date, and not kept for longer than necessary.

For marketers, I would argue that if you’ve already been using data effectively, in most cases the new legislation won’t make a bit of difference to your practices.

The DPA is concerned with the personal details held, which often account for much of a customer database. Yet database marketers usually work with anonymous or summarised data that is far quicker and relevant. Contrary to some public opinion, marketers aren’t poring over individual personal records, scheming the next way to wring another pound out of them. This sort of data is in accordance with DPA guidelines, and is enormously useful in effective marketing. Valuable customer insights can be identified, without knowing who the actual customers are, driving door-drop targeting, or profiling on BARB/TGI to build communication strategies.

Every year the variety and the volume of data seems to increase, while the costs of storing this data fall, meaning there is much more information available. With a few notable exceptions such as Tesco or American Express, what perhaps hasn’t improved is our ability to make the best of all this data.

Direct response advertising – one of the few growth sectors in the current climate – will continue to be a source of data for many clients. Such businesses have little to be concerned about with the new legislation as the use of advertising to gather personal data has not been questioned.

In fact, if you actually read the DPA, large sections could even have been penned by a marketing analyst. It’s peppered with references to accuracy, relevance and currency of data. It’s simply not in a marketer’s interest to breach the DPA code, and it never has been.

James Northway is an associate director and data strategist at Carat

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