Regulators and industry bodies like the DMC have a key role to play in enhancing the reputation of the data and marketing industry and building public trust, says Amerdeep Somal.

The global flow of personal data is something people take for granted in today’s digital age, with rules like the GDPR in place to protect European citizens’ data privacy rights.

Business face trust challenges around data

Despite that, there are challenges that continue to inhibit public trust, including specific regulatory issues troubling businesses: What will our relationship with Europe be like in relation to the flow of personal data post-Brexit? Will a Data Adequacy agreement be reached? Who will really be driving the underlying elements of the Government’s digital strategy?

In the past week, there have been reports from Brussels that the European Commission is on the verge of recommending a positive Adequacy decision, which would ensure EU markets are more accessible. The UK’s Data Adequacy status will make clear the need to maintain the exemplary regulatory standards we have adopted over recent years and which have been key to building trust in the UK marketing industry post-GDPR.

Meanwhile, the Government’s National Data Strategy is still in the development phase. The extent to which it will support consumers and their interpretation of how the data industry operates will be another challenge facing the industry.

The Data & Marketing Commission (DMC) and the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) are working closely with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on this. It is imperative that this initiative helps to increase consumers’ understanding of what happens with their data and what it means for them if organisations hold it. We must find ways to enhance the reputation of the data economy and encourage more engagement with consumers.

Another key challenge is boosting industry knowledge surrounding grey areas of the GDPR. For example, regulators continue to receive complaints from consumers post-GDPR about service emails, which should exist to provide key service updates. But there is still confusion about whether a service email is just a masked marketing email. Some marketers are ‘creative’ around what constitutes a service email, but a minority are using them to outright promote a product or service to recipients, which is a breach of the GDPR if there are no valid grounds to do so.

The use of AI is growing fast and as we increase automation and allow AI algorithms to run critical services, this will have a significant impact on individual wellbeing and liberties. None of us wants to be inaccurately judged or unfairly favoured based on our gender, race or beliefs, but these unwanted biases exist. But lawmakers alone cannot drive change and make organisations act ethically – it is up to people and organisations to collectively tackle these injustices and it is here that we, the DMC, can help to educate them on their responsibilities.

Regulators can help build trust

An open dialogue between the UK Government, businesses and consumers is more important than ever as AI, machine learning, algorithms, digital and e-privacy issues bring new challenges.

If regulators are able to bring education to the forefront and share learning from our work to improve industry practices, this will help create an environment where businesses and marketers are encouraged to learn and increase the flow and exchange of information. We must only resort to punitive measures as a final option when a business has repeatedly failed to uphold a duty of care to its customers.

The DMC already has a working relationship with the Information Commissioner’s Office and other regulators in different industries. We are keen to further strengthen those relationships and, using the powers of our sphere of influence, to engage in discussion with them and act as a sounding board for organisations and consumers. Ultimately, we are all striving to improve trust in the industry and build a better experience for the customer.

Amerdeep Somal will be speaking at the DMA’s Data 2021 virtual event on Thursday 25 March, where she will discuss the role of industry bodies like the Data & Marketing Commission (DMC), and how regulatory bodies can work with businesses in 2021 to improve compliance and build public trust in the industry.