Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More on Consumer Privacy

It's always interesting to read how other countries are handling the same concerns that we face here in the US. Take, for instance, this article from The Toronto Star, titled: Protecting privacy makes business sense.

The article discusses how marketers "collect, use and share a consumer's personal information in the marketplace". It talks about how recent data breaches and the US legislation around privacy issues are fueling increased public scrutiny of this topic. The article makes the right conclusion and recommendation to marketers: "Companies that people see as trustworthy will be rewarded with a higher degree of customer loyalty. For this reason, consumer privacy and good data handling practices make good business sense."

All good info. But, the primary reason why I'm talking about this particular article today is because of one sentence kind of buried within the article that talks about Canadian law: "Canada's federal privacy law quite rightly gives individuals the right to control the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information. And consumers are demanding the ability to exercise that right."

So, what does this mean exactly? How does a consumer get to control the use of their public data, for example? If a mailing list compiler takes a name and phone number from a phone book, does that compiler have to offer a mechanism to the consumer to change/add/delete his info? Can that consumer control which marketers have access to his name and address? How is this regulated and how does it work?

Prior to starting my own consulting business, I worked for several of the leading data collectors/compilers such as Experian and InfoUSA. I know that it would be a logistical nightmare to let people control data that is compiled about them. It's hard enough to do this in a regulated environment (i.e.: credit bureaus are required to respond to consumer corrections about their credit reports, and rightly so). In an unregulated environment (think of all the mailing lists out there), it would be madness. But, it might be the right thing for the consumer.

I'd love to hear from Canadian direct marketers who may be dealing with this federal privacy law today, or making plans to comply with the finer points of the law tomorrow.

Consumer privacy issues are only growing. We need to face them head-on and anticipate how to keep data secure AND give control back to the consumer.

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