Daily Mail has history when it comes to attacking data-driven marketing. From persistent objections to “junk mail” to its latest investigation into the financial data trade, the newspaper has never been a fan of companies that use personal information to help them make a sale.
To some data practitioners, especially in the big data realm, being hated in this way will be a new experience. For most of this decade, data has been the shiny, new toy which has done nothing but delight the businesses playing with it. If the latest headlines have any significance, it may be that some of that gloss is beginning to rub off.
So here are the life lessons which the data industry needs to learn from the experience:
Just because the Daily Mail hates it, doesn’t make it wrong
At the heart of its latest investigation is the trade in personal and financial information which has been captured during applications for financial services. The data traders involved all made it clear that the individuals had an opportunity to opt-out of marketing uses of their data but chose not to (or failed to do so). In other words, at a technical level, there is nothing wrong with how this data was captured or the fact it was being sold on.
There is a potential issue around who these data traders were selling to. Due diligence in the event of a contract to purchase being signed might have revealed that these were undercover journalists, rather than legitimate businesses. But even then, most fraudsters start by setting up or taking over cover companies behind whose doors they then carry out questionable practices. Checking Companies House records will only take you so far.
Back in the days of direct mail, one of the core demands of any list owner or broker was to see a copy of the mailpack before it was sent out to the names being rented. Where the output is a phone call or text, this may seem harder - but copies of scripts and texts should still be requested. A refusal should then sound alarm bells and prevent the data being transferred.
Just because it is not wrong doesn’t make it right
While the presence of an opt-out box is all the law requires, using 5-point type or placing it on the bottom of the last page of a lengthy application form is a long, long way from best practice. Existing data protection law demands transparency and fairness. While consumers generally know that their information has to be shared for the purposes of credit referencing, most are unaware of the extent to which their personal information can be traded - and research repeatedly shows how hostile they are to this practice.
For the data industry to sustain its new-found status as a business favourite, it needs to retain the trust of data subjects. That means no more sleight of hand or covert data capture, but, instead, an upfront clarity about what else data might be used for and what choices and control the individual has around that. One consequence will be less data available commercially and the disappearance of some data traders and certain businesses who rely on them. But those headlines will also go away...
Get ready to do the right thing with consent
If you think the Daily Mail’s current story is troubling, just imagine what will happen when it learns about the world of online behavioural advertising and the use of big data to target ads and profile people. All of that activity is happening in a legal grey area which often does not even involve an opt-out as it is claimed this is not personal information.
The paradox is that what the Daily Mail currently objects to will soon by solved by something it objects to even more passionately - the European Union. Make no mistake about it, by the end of this year, new data protection laws will be put in place and data collection in every circumstance will move to opt-in.
If your current business plan or marketing approach will not be able to operate under that regime, now is the time to change. Either that or book your appointment in a newspaper headline for 2017.