Regulations on Consumer Data and Privacy Must Be Modernized

In our industry we often talk about the importance of recognizing the distinction of marketing data used for marketing purposes—as opposed to, say, consumer data that’s used for healthcare or financial eligibility.  To this end, any regulation around consumer data and privacy must be modernized to reflect our socially and digitally connected data-driven lifestyle, according to a series of studies from The World Economic Forum (WEF).  These studies highlight the importance of updating the way society collects, uses, and manages all types of consumer data, which has important insight and direction for marketers, as well.

The multiyear studies focus on three key areas and builds on the 1980 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Privacy Principles:

  1. Protection and security
  2. Accountability
  3. Rights and responsibility for using personal data

The reports acknowledge the complexity of personal data today—and how hard it is to define concepts like ownership, permission, and reputation.  I found very relevant to our direct marketing world two of the reports produced by WEF with The Boston Consulting Group, “Unlocking the Value of Personal Data” and “Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust.” Both examine how the use of personal data can create enormous value for individuals, marketers and governments. “The rules governing personal data need to be flexible enough to enable new business models, accommodate technology evolution, enable user trust and meet the requirements for user transparency,” according to the WEF authors.

The “Unlocking” report calls for the establishment of an updated set of global principles that will govern how we share our own personal data, and how marketers, risk assessors, institutions, and government collect and use that data. “Shared principles have been a core part of the governance of personal data for many decades. Principles can serve as the anchor points for global governance and strengthen accountability, predictability, and trust,” the WEF authors say.

In recognition of the complexity of these issues, DMA launched the Data Driven Marketing Institute last year to build awareness of how responsible data-driven marketing benefits both consumers and the economy.  As new technologies radically enhance the production and processing of data, they also challenge consumer privacy expectations. As a result, regulators around the world are wrestling with the question over where the new lines of privacy should be drawn.

Marketers are already and can continue to be responsible stewards of consumer data. “[Big data] requires a rethink of transitional approaches to data governance, particularly a shift from focusing away from tying to control the data itself, to focus on the uses of data,” the “Unlocking” study authors say.

We must all remain vigilant and active so that blanket protections proposed by regulators and legislators (Federal or state or European) do not harm marketing activities.  As the WEF studies emphasize, “context matters.” Restriction on the responsible use of data—and yet to be discovered responsible uses—will not only remove value for consumers, but put transformative innovations at risk.

  Stephanie Miller is VP of member relations and chief listening officer at the Direct Marketing Association. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences.  A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue.
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