Why data privacy matters more than ever

With the loss of 25 million data records by HM Revenue & Customs towards the end of 2007, there are increasing calls from the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) for a tightening of our data protection laws.

With continued growth in online these issues are extremely important to anyone working in marketing & communications. Security scares & changes in legislation will affect us all; from reluctance from potential customers to surrender personal data to the imposing of stricter guidelines on how we treat data once it is in our possession.

But as a firm believer in the power of permission-based marketing I’m grateful that some positive good might emerge from such a monumental mishap.

We all need to take great care of the data in our protection and of course, of how we chose to use it. Following the HMRC debacle, news stories about loss of personal data have increased & there is rising concern among the public about privacy issues. The government is under pressure to do something. I predict that we’ll see changes to data protection legislation this year.

But what can I do to ensure compliancy with current legislation?
Online marketing is covered by the Data Protection Act & the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations. In relation to the latter the ICO website states:

“Unsolicited marketing material by electronic mail (including email, text & picture messaging) should only be sent if the individual has consented to receive them, unless the individual’s details were obtained in the context of a commercial relationship & the marketing is for similar products or services.

The individual should always be given the opportunity to opt out in every message.

The ICO is working with its European counterparts & the US to try to reduce spam. There is currently no specific legislation to cover email sent to business addresses.”

In relation to the above it is essential that privacy statements are clear, concise and easy to understand. And of course it is absolutely essential that data is kept clean & up-to-date.

With the possibility of new legislation there’ll be a real chance that databases might shrink as we’re all impelled to remove obsolete records. I’d welcome such a move as both a marketer and a consumer.

Cleaner data offers the chance to build better relationships. Permission-based marketing results in more intelligence about customers and their needs, enabling far greater targeting. It should be a win/win situation. Data is so valuable it’s imperative that it is kept secure and protected from misuse at all times.