Navigating around the privacy minefield

Jodie Sangster

Jodie Sangster has been the CEO of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) since 2011 and is also chairperson for the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (IFDMA). She has worked across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific for 14 years with a focus on data-driven marketing and privacy, and began her career as a lawyer in London specialising in data protection. Her resume includes senior positions at Acxiom Asia-Pacific and the Direct Marketing Association in New York.

This week is Privacy Awareness Week so now is the time for CMOs to contemplate if their company has their house in order around data protection, especially with the new privacy laws coming into effect on 12 March 2014.

From this date, marketers and advertisers will have to operate under new rules controlling the way they use ‘personal’ information about individuals. Even the definition of personal information itself is changing and becoming much broader, encapsulating many new data types that weren’t previously considered ‘personal’. This is thanks to advances in technology that makes it possible to generate and capture data not possible when the previous laws were introduced in1988.

The law applies to any company that collects information (such as names, contact details, payment information or other details related to a specific person) for any purpose. It’s impossible to go into all the changes coming but as a first step, you should be auditing your data collection practices, reviewing your privacy policy (or drafting a policy if you don’t have one), training one of your staff to be a privacy officer so they can answer staff/consumer enquiries around privacy, and holding talks with your marketing and IT teams about updating data security/systems.

It’s not to be taken lightly: if you fail to comply with the new laws you can be hit with fines of up to $1.7 million for breaking the law, painful for both pocket and reputation.

The new laws have been created because there is simply more data available about people and we are more reliant on it for business and personal reasons. In the last few years, data has made it possible for organisations to market and advertise to individuals on a truly personalised basis through new channels such as mobile, email, interactive websites, social media and online display ads. Through data and digital media, we have new opportunities to gain more insights into the behaviours and desires of consumers.

But such rapid changes in marketing and increased opportunities to collect and study consumer data have also triggered the latest privacy concerns and tightened regulation. Ten years ago when online shopping was new, discussions around privacy/data protection were focused on protecting consumers against identity theft and fraudulent activities. Now the debate is fuelled by other factors: that social media encourages individuals to ‘share far too much’ and that organisations can ‘track’ consumer conversations and use that information for commercial advantage.

The fiery combination of these various components has created the need for revised laws to provide new boundaries for business around data and to give consumers added reassurance their data will be protected and used appropriately.

If there is one word that businesses need to live-and-breathe as they look at their future privacy practices, it’s ‘transparency’. From next March you need to be more transparent and responsive with your customers about what you are doing with their data and present them with choices on this use. Communicating with customers will also be more tricky (requiring opt outs each time) and if you store data in the ‘cloud’ there are some new requirements that apply. So it’s important that you read up on the new law privacy reformsl

People have asked me what I think about the new privacy laws. They are a done deal, but I’m disappointed the Government didn’t take the opportunity to develop forward, future-proof laws for Australia that would strike a balance between business innovation and consumer protection. First, I think there will be consequences with over-restricting data use that will limit the possibilities presented by Big Data, placing Australian business at a disadvantage in the global marketplace and stifling future innovation in this market.

Second, the attempt to restrict the use of personal information for marketing purposes will not meet the government’s objective of reducing the amount of marketing and advertising consumers receive. Instead, it will result in businesses reverting back to sending mass, untargeted marketing and consumers being subject to potentially irrelevant messaging. This is a big annoyance for everyone.

Third, real care has to be taken not to hinder the ability for organisations to invest in freely available consumer resources. Many services we value such as news sites, social media, online comparison sites, search engines, mobile apps and other digital resources are currently free because they are financed through marketing and advertising. If we restrict how data can be used for marketing and advertising purposes we have to understand the consequences: are we willing to pay for such services in the future?

To conclude, an informed society requires informed data, and to achieve this we needed a revolutionary privacy regime that supports both business and consumers. Sadly, we did not get it this time round and we have to abide with what we got. This is Privacy Awareness Week: start reviewing your processes now.

Want to know more about the state of Australia’s privacy environment or get a clearer picture of the regulatory landscape? Email me at

Tags: privacy, data-driven marketing, customer insights

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