Why should brands worry about Europe's data protection proposals?

Charles Ping: strategy director of Communisis Data Intelligence and head of CRM at GN&M
Charles Ping: strategy director of Communisis Data Intelligence and head of CRM at GN&M

The marketing industry needs to engage with the European Commission's proposed shake-up of data protection legislation, which could restrict businesses using social media data and channels, writes Charles Ping of Communisis Data Intelligence.

The European Commission's draft data protection bill, released yesterday, is a significant move towards creating a 21st century platform to guide organisations in how they gather, store and use consumer data.

It is intended to replace the 1995 EU Directive which in turn led to the current UK 1998 Data Protection Act.

However this draft bill still leaves some key ambiguities and these will be felt most strongly among social media practitioners and in high-volume data gathering brands like Facebook.

A new concept of the "right to be forgotten" is brought in. This has been widely trailed as a bulwark of the new controls on social media.

Social media also features in a number of areas including an "explicit requirement" to minimise the amount of personal data collected.

This will cause much confusion within brands and data specialists since the idea of what constitutes an acceptable (or excessive) volume of data is clearly subjective.

Furthermore it's not simply the volume of data that can cause can issues for consumers, it might simply be the presence of a single attribute that triggers an action.

Deletion of data ensconced in the "right to be forgotten" isn’t entirely new since it's been part of the existing legislation but the new bill spells it out in words of one syllable and gives it a consumer friendly name.

When holding complex data across a large, distributed systems it's the brand owner's responsibly to make sure that it can be untangled and removed quickly.

Overall the movement of control into the consumer's hands is positive and gives reassurance and clarity to both consumer and brands.

The second aspect that has caused some consternation relates to consent. The new bill makes a requirement for "explicit consent" when capturing personal details.

In one interpretation this might mean no more than following current good practice but once again the detail of the commentary is open to interpretation.

Ensuring that the correct, fair consent has been attained for holding and using consumer information has long been recognised and adhered to through industry best practice.

It is considered the highest priority for any company accessing and using consumer data. The industry needs to interrogate the detail to understand what the EC really means. Until then it will remain a concern across the industry.

The focus of any legislative changes needs to provide a framework fit for the modern, digital economy whilst providing reasonable protection for the reasonable consumer.

The draft legislation appears to be lacking in the clarity needed to achieve this.

Rather, it creates a very blurry line in the sand that seems aimed towards the restriction of businesses using social media data and channels.

Although there has been a growing need in recent years to refine how consumer data is gathered and used across all channels ring-fencing commercial operations is not the best approach, especially when data is a core component of free to consumer services.

The industry must work with the authorities to ensure an unambiguous interpretation that considers both the need for protecting individuals' rights as well as allowing legitimate commercial activity to flourish.

Charles Ping is the strategy director of Communisis Data Intelligence and former chairman of the Direct Marketing Association and head of CRM at Guardian News & Media.

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