Chris Combemale tells MPs of the immense opportunities in an open data economy - but businesses must engender trust | DMA

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Chris Combemale tells MPs of the immense opportunities in an open data economy - but businesses must engender trust


More than ever consumers are aware of the risks involved in sharing their data. If brands are to succeed in the long-term and differentiate themselves from their competition, then winning the trust of consumers is a commercial imperative. These were the opening remarks from DMA Group CEO, Chris Combemale as he gave evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee.

The hearing took place 17 November, with other witnesses including the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham. The committee is investigating the opportunities and risks in “Big Data” and is also looking at other related issues around consent, data protection law and security breaches.

The DMA at parliament

Chris discussed recent DMA privacy research that shows how people are moving away from being ideologically opposed to sharing their personal data with companies. This, however, doesn’t mask the fact that consumers are still concerned about data privacy. Primarily people want more control over their data is collected and used.

The Information Commissioner felt that while consumers did indeed want more control over their data – ICO research showed consumers felt they had lost control – this did not mean that the opportunities with Big Data are at risk. Data controllers must ensure they are aware of the implications carried by projects on consumer privacy – and this must come right from the outset of project ideation, not as an afterthought.

In order to empower consumers, businesses need to move away from privacy policies that are intelligible only to lawyers. Chris pointed out that well-crafted privacy policies in easy-to-understand English lead to customers feeling more comfortable about sharing data. This is fundamental to how businesses build meaningful long-term relationships with their customers.

Christopher Graham echoed this view and spoke about the work the ICO had done with Google. Google now has a layered approach to its privacy policy, which now genuinely informs the customer and puts them first.

The DMA and ICO: sharing out the same message

It is encouraging to see that the one-to-one marketing industry and the ICO are on the same page. There is an understanding that if we are to fully realise the huge potential from the sheer volume of data being collected then consumers need to trust businesses to safely take care of personal data.

However, in order to make this a reality there must also be robust enforcement. There are rogue traders out there willing to break the rules to make a fast buck and they must be dealt with. Chris made clear his support for criminal sanctions to deal with “rogue traders who wilfully misuse data”. Similarly, the ICO has long called for the ability to issue criminal sanctions for the most egregious offences.

The committee were also interested in the Data Protection Regulation (DPR) and what sort of impact it would have on industry. The regulation is still being debated in Brussels and so its final content is not known: a hard view can’t be taken just yet.

At this point, the DMA’s position is that the current parliamentary version of the regulation is too prescriptive. The right balance is still to be struck between the legitimate interests of businesses and privacy rights of consumers. Chris Combemale went on to explain that, while the DMA had a number of reservations, he remained hopeful that progress was being made and that worst-case scenarios would be avoided.

Christopher Graham told the committee how the regulation would require fundamental change in UK law. There is a two year period of grace after regulation is agreed on that will be used to make sure all citizens and businesses are fully aware of the changes. The Information Commissioner emphasised that an effort would be needed to ensure all citizens properly understood any new information rights.

Final thoughts

Agreement and cross-over between the DMA and ICO is positive for the industry. The DMA is at the forefront of good marketing practice and the role we play was clearly appreciated by the MPs on the select committee.

The key takeaway message of the day was that no industry can thrive long-term if there is no notion of a fair value exchange. Companies need to do all they can to engender the trust of consumers so they are willing to exchange their personal data. Ultimately it is the brands that consumers trust that will succeed in the future.

The DMA is running an awareness campaign as DPR undergoes changes. We are on hand to help businesses become compliant with regulation.

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