Don’t get caught with your trousers down

CharlieBrussels has already deemed it evil, yet others see it as a natural progression. So, just what is it about behavioural advertising which makes it join the EU hit-list that includes using combine harvesters on wet soil, bendy cucumbers and selling eggs by the dozen?
A practice which was hailed as marketing nirvana a few years ago is starting to irk with the authorities and, to be fair, it is easy to see why. Because, as always, what many marketers view as clever, most consumers view as intrusive.
I’m sure BT thought it was being extremely ingenious when it launched its Phorm trials, yet it is likely that the UK will face a heavy fine for allowing the test to go ahead without asking people’s permission. Likewise Apple, which according to reports, is now facing a legal challenge to its apps after being indicted in a US court for breaking privacy laws.
Gone are the days when you could hoodwink the public; now they know exactly how to fight back.
Of course, direct marketers know all about privacy don’t they? It’s not as if the industry hasn’t had any practice. As far back as the late Nineties a disgruntled retired accountant called Brian Robertson won a legal battle against his local council after questioning why his name was being sold to marketing companies on the Electoral Register. At the time the industry was up in arms, but no-one could dispute his objections.
It could be argued that behavioural advertising is only a force for good. After all, the end result is actually helping consumers find products that they are likely to be interested in. But these are sensitive times and privacy is at the top of the agenda.
A recent study by the Information Commissioner’s Office showed most companies are completely in the dark when it comes to data protection laws and haven’t got a clue about storing data securely. What hope is there then that privacy is anywhere on the radar?
So, with the authorities taking a closer look into how companies operate, isn’t it about time you checked that your privacy strategy ticks all the boxes? It might not be the most interesting part of your day, but, at best it could save you a visit from the Information Commissioner, at worst a visit to court.

Charlie McKelvey, publishing editor (charlie.mckelvey@decisionmarketing.co.uk)

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