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The credible threat to consumer trust in data

15th September 2014 • Opinions

By Mark Roy, Chairman and Founder, The Data Agency

Even the data marketing industry is asking questions of the motives behind the drip act, described here as a credible threat to the goodwill between consumers and companies.

The Snooper’s Charter, or The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) if we’re being stuffy about it, is touted by some as being evidence of a gross intrusion and an erosion of civil liberties which UK citizens have fought for decades to defend. To others, it’s a necessary precaution against the perceived growing threat of terrorism in an increasingly unstable world. It’s a classic rehash of the tired security vs. privacy debate which dinner tables around the country are sick of debating. The real issue at stake isn’t a conceptual one, it certainly isn’t about political philosophy, it’s about how this is going to affect the day-to-day; how consumers can survive the – surely impending – protracted regulatory fight between privacy and security with any confidence in those who manage and maintain their data.

Vast quantities of data are being harvested and harnessed by companies every day to glean insight of tangible value into their customers. Not only that, but many companies are starting to switch on to the idea I’ve been pushing for years, that data can also provide the companies themselves with unparalleled business insight into their own operations and identify huge savings in how they run their campaigns. As long as the data that feeds this level of insight is willingly shared in large quantities then experts can press the juice from it. DRIPA threatens this valuable status quo.

Data helps us understand human needs and desires and work to meet them more efficiently and effectively. Businesses can adapt to changing consumer behaviour and offer smarter solutions. Data is collected in good faith and customers have no issue with it, as long as there’s a transparent quid pro quo. Caveat emptor doesn’t apply when savvy consumers know that each purchase on a loyalty card leads to neatly tailored offers in the monthly newsletter.

Yet if David Cameron has his way and DRIPA is deployed the way it’s intended, many firms will be obliged to retain data on their customers up to 24 months after an interaction. This is a length of time which feels like blatant Government snooping, not sensible policing. It’s a credible threat to the existing goodwill between consumers and companies when it comes to personal data. This potential for damage to businesses and their hard won customer relationships seems to have been overlooked. Tech companies handing over the contents of private phone calls, emails, even Snapchats, because of a warrant from a senior Government minister represents a real threat to consumer trust in those companies. The Government can claim to be protecting consumers in the interests of national security, but eroding their faith in commercial organisations’ duty of care to protect their details is going to be a step too far for many consumers.

To be frank, it suggests that the Government is totally disconnected from the real world of how data is put in practice, and the safeguards currently in place. It also leaves many open to the threat of law suits from challenges which will no doubt be politically motivated and funded.
DRIPA was only deemed to be required in the UK following the EU throwing out original legislation of its kind, judging it to be unlawful. At the core of our own Data Protection Act is the principle that any data kept on individuals must be relevant. I look forward to seeing a barrister prove that the retention of data for 24 months showing a customer called his aged mother three times a week could ever be classed as relevant!

Where data marketers can get one over on this legislation is by taking greater charge of educating consumers about what their data is being used for, and making sure that their processes are transparent. Opt-outs from marketing messages will be viewed with increasing importance to consumers and reaching them at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong message will be judged more harshly by those individuals. Consumers can be misinformed the great job commercial organisations do, overall, of protecting customer data. It’s in the best interests of businesses to develop trust between them and their customers. The Government has to ensure that DRIPA isn’t a detrimental blow to that well-earned trust.

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