The Direct Marketing Commission (DMC) – which is the enforcer for the entire DM industry as well as the DMA – is calling for “root and branch” reforms of the data sector to tackle the rise in consumer complaints, driven mainly by nuisance calls and texts.
Investigations made by the DMC over the past 12 months into consumer complaints about unwanted direct marketing contact have identified common underlying problems regarding the source and use of data as being responsible for the majority of cases.
Some of the worst cases highlighted in the DMC’s annual report published today (February 3) reveal a lack of understanding or, more seriously, a lack of concern, by some firms about whether their activities comply with regulations and industry best practice.
In particular, the cases reveal common failures in companies to be able to cite the provenance of consumer data, whether the data has been ‘cleansed’, or if it’s been tested for accuracy and the necessary permissions.
The DMC’s chief commissioner George Kidd (pictured) believes the industry must move quickly to address the fundamental problems in the data sector.
He said: “The volume and nature of complaints we investigate show that we need to take a root and branch look at how companies collect, source, sell and test consumer data. Some business make fantastic creative use of data, delivering offers and services that are tuned to our personal needs and preferences.
“But there are times when other preferences and rights – not to be sent messages and calls which we have not agreed to or have said we do not want – are being ignored as companies pursue short-term gain, most obviously in the personal injury and Payment Protection Insurance fields. It’s not acceptable for businesses in the data business not to be able to explain where their data and the permissions on its use came from or for firms to dupe those they mail and call with mock surveys and ‘research’ that open the door to sales and marketing calls, texts and emails from total strangers.”
“There is no magic solution to these problems of privacy and the misuse of data, and it will require a concerted effort in the industry to find solutions to the problems. It’s essential that this is guided by the principle of ‘putting the customer first’. Failure to do so will ensure that complaints about our industry will continue to rise and consumer confidence in direct marketing will decline.”
In September last year, Kidd gave evidence at the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into nuisance calls and texts, where he argued for the need for creating a co-regulatory body to tackle the issue of unwanted contact.
Currently, responsibility for telemarketing and mobile marketing is spread between Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The DMC supports these regulators but worries that neither body arguably has the resources, singular focus or the organisational build for dealing with thousands of complaints and engaging with industry to make sure these problems do not recur.
Rosaleen Hubbard, an independent commissioner of the DMC, commented: “Unacceptable practices, such as nuisance calls, should not be allowed simply because the plethora of regulators and complaints bodies across the sectors results in consumer confusion. Given the multitude of regulatory frameworks within which DM companies work, formal co-operation with statutory and regulatory bodies from other bodies should be further developed to enable the DMC to most effectively handle consumer complaints.”
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