Article

Caroline Oliver
Caroline Oliver 18 October 2013
Categories Data & Analytics

The Thick of IT

The online advertising industry needs to be more transparent to allay consumers' privacy concerns.

This week TRUSTe, the leading global Data Privacy Management (DPM) company said: “The online advertising industry needs to be more transparent to allay consumers’ privacy concerns and better explain the benefits of data capture and use, or risk regulators damaging a significant part of the UK economy by over-legislating the burgeoning digital media sector.”
 
However, it’s not just the online advertising industry that is shining the searchlight onto the practices of the digital media sector. The wider data capture industry is now coming under scrutiny, thanks to increasing awareness about commercial mal practice and also the fallout from the PRISMscandal. Transparency about commercial operations can no longer just be dismissive spin, because claiming to adhere to legal provisions if you actually ignore them, also risks forcing the hand of data privacy lawmakers. Transparency will now mean actually walking the talk, of going to the lengths of being fully compliant if your website discloses that you are and of respecting the local legal implications of data collection and data handling in different countries. Legality issues here are multi-layered and complex, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise because the tide is turning.
 
The Guardian once described the legal system’s attempt to deal with the Internet as “like somebody trying to drive a car by only looking in the rearview mirror,” which would go someway to explaining the loopholes that some technology companies shape-shift to squeeze though to serve their own commercial ends. However axes have now started to fall. Damage is now being done in EU markets by unprofessional, irresponsible practices of third party data handling companies, serving only to amplify a timely warning by Marketing Week this week to exercise caution about how consumer data is used, or risk prescriptive legislation from privacy policymakers. And it is timely. Malpractice witnessed in the German market as one example, also has the potential to negatively impact the UK, Singaporean and Brazilian digital media sectors too.
 
It’s an alarm bell that has reached the ears of the consumer press too, who anticipate that any placing of operational convenience ahead of data protection responsibilities will have serious commercial consequences. The Financial Times recently predicted that “through 2016, 25 per cent of organisations using consumer data will face reputational damage due to inadequate understanding of information trust issues, and 20 per cent of chief information officers in regulated industries will lose their jobs for failing to implement the discipline of information governance successfully.”
 
But worrying as the threat of over-legislation is to stamp out those in the industry who currently choose to play with fire, ministers are also debating a provision for cross border companies to be able to answer to only one data privacy authority, to better support business development for the e-commerce and digital industries. It’s a delicate balance that now has to be fine-tuned by EU Justice Ministers, to make sure that it also protects the data protection rights of individuals. And like anything to do with data protection and privacy, it’s complex and a double-edged sword, but the industry watches and waits with interest.
 
Here at Ve we are proud that we have always taken care to develop innovative technology solutionsto help our clients in all countries, safely collect and correctly use customer data, bringing economic value to the broader e-commerce industry, whilst also building customer trust and protecting brand reputation. And we are proud to stay abreast of regulation changes too. Under EU reforms, it will be mandatory to have a dedicated Data Protection Officer. Ve already has one and we have gone to the lengths of having an in-house general counsel too, to ensure that our clients always adhere to best practice. We’re ahead of the curve not just with our technologies but with our practices too.
 
With these EU Data Protection reforms currently being debated, the next 12 months should be intrinsic in playing host to a debate on strategic issues including the establishment and maintenance of a global privacy program for business. So with the ticking time bomb of those companies who prefer to focus their energies instead on mining current loopholes, it’s time for the rest of us to become part of that political debate and initiate questioning on such two-faced approaches, to demand accountability and so prevent an indiscriminate regulatory wrecking ball from smashing through our valuable digital media sector.

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