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Why we welcome GDPR—and why you should too

May 21, 2018, 13:49 PM by Jan Kestle

While many organizations are nervous about the new European data protection regulations that that come into effect on May 25, we welcome the new rules and what they stand for.

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will force global businesses to rethink how they collect and use information about their customers. These regulations provide businesses an opportunity to entrench the use of data and analytics in the design of marketing and customer engagement programs if they are implemented properly. And this could ultimately build much needed trust between consumers and the companies they do business with.

But in light of recent high-profile data breaches that have come to light, most organizations are understandably taking steps to ensure compliance. And so they should. To give this legislation some punch, the fines for non-compliance were designed to be punitive. The lower level fines can range up to €10 million (approximately US$12 million), or 2% of an organization’s worldwide annual revenue of the prior financial year, whichever is higher. For more egregious offences the fines can shoot as high as €20 million (approximately US$24 million), or 4% of an organization’s worldwide annual revenue.

Forward-thinking businesses know they can’t turn their backs on data and analytics, realizing that data-driven decision making is too valuable to pass up. Businesses, governments and social service organizations need to be able to make decisions informed by data, not only to offer the best service, but to make the most efficient use of their resources in a highly competitive world.

Organizations need to collect consumer data ethically and transparently to get the data-driven insights they need while at the same time honoring the commitment they made to protect customers’ privacy. While all organizations should have the governance and policies in place to protect consumer data, it is also vital that they select partners that adhere to data collection, management and security best practices.

For companies like ours that specialize in providing data and analytics, addressing issues of privacy, consumer protection and transparency are always top of mind. Our focus is on providing the actionable insights our clients need to address their key business challenges without any risk of breaching consumer privacy.

How? We accomplish this by using aggregated and anonymized data, which we collect from reliable sources using privacy-compliant methods. We then use sophisticated statistical analysis and modeling to link the data to small area geographies such as a postal code. In simple terms, it means we can offer you meaningful insights about the demographics, values and behaviors of specific parts of the population without compromising their privacy.

In essence, our data tell you that people who live in a particular area tend to look like this, which is more than sufficient to drive everything from targeted mail campaigns to deciding where to place services and how to stock stores. 

We adhere to five principles from which we never deviate:

  1. Personal data must only be used for the purposes to which the provider consented.
  2. Personal data must not be shared with a third party under any circumstances, unless there was explicit consent to the sharing.
  3. The consent to opt in or opt out as appropriate under the law must be easy to understand and accessible to the provider.
  4. Survey responders have a right to expect their individual responses to be confidential.
  5. Sharing personal data for “academic research” should be governed by licensing agreements and subject to the standards that apply for any other purpose.

What should not be forgotten in this discussion is how data-driven decision making, when done legally, ethically and responsibly, makes the lives of consumers better. We’ve helped municipalities deliver more efficient emergency services like fire, ambulance and policing. We also provide critical information that planners at all levels of government need to fund social services, streamline health care, conserve energy, deliver education and more.

Good analytics benefit consumers as well. We all are busy. We want to receive messages and offers about things that are of interest to us, that make our days simpler, more efficient, and help us find products and services easily—while filtering out those that do not. We don’t want to receive targeted ads for the next month in our web searches for a product we bought yesterday. And we want our local merchants to stock products that are tailored to our lifestyle.

So on May 25 we won’t be lamenting the implementation of GDPR since in Canada we have operated under comparable standards for a long time and adhere to the same standards in the U.S. The new legislation will remind analytics professionals to ensure everyone is playing by the rules—and that’s long overdue.  

Jan Kestle is the Founder, President and CEO of Environics Analytics, Canada’s leading data analytics and marketing services company. She is an expert in using statistics and mathematics to help solve business challenges and has been a leader in the marketing information industry for more than 40 years.