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Retail Technology, Retail technology News

Relevance key to new ICO powers, expert says

Tuesday May 31 2011

New powers to fine organisations for unwanted marketing calls and messages will test the ability of marketers and retailers to effectively target its communications

New powers to fine organisations for unwanted marketing calls and messages will test the ability of marketers and retailers to effectively target its communications


A data analysis expert has warned that relevance will be an essential attribute to harness, if companies are to avoid falling foul of new powers to serve monetary penalties of up to £500,000 for the most serious incidents of businesses and other organisations making unwanted marketing phone calls or sending unwanted marketing emails to consumers.


The change – along with other powers granted to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) – came into force as part of an amendment to the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) on 25 May 2011.


Wide-ranging extra powers


The new powers, which have been confirmed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will include:

  • Monetary penalty powers extended: the Information Commissioner can serve a monetary penalty of up £500,000 for the most serious breaches of PECR. This covers businesses and other organisations sending unwanted marketing emails and texts, as well as making live and automated marketing phone calls.
  • Increased investigatory powers: the Information Commissioner can require telecommunications companies and internet service providers (ISPs) to provide his office with information that he needs to investigate breaches of the regulations.
  • Compulsory notification when breaches occur: telecommunications companies and ISPs will be required to notify the ICO and their customers in certain circumstances when a personal data breach occurs.
  • Increased audit powers: the Information Commissioner will have the power to audit telecommunication companies and ISPs for compliance with these personal data breach notification requirements.
  • New rules for websites using cookies and similar technologies: the ICO will be responsible for regulating compliance with this new requirement and will soon be issuing advice.


Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, stated: “The ICO has been calling for increased powers to regulate breaches of PECR for some time. The changes to the regulations will grant us the right to impose significant monetary penalties for the most serious breaches of the rules and give us improved powers to investigate companies that make nuisance marketing calls.”


Talk to consumers, don’t shout


Roger Llewellyn, chief executive of data analysis expert Kognitio, commented: “It will be interesting to see if and when the ICO makes use of its new powers. Certainly, consumer frustration with unwanted, untargeted emails and cold calling has been simmering for a long time.”


He highlighted that only last autumn a TNS Omnibus survey showed that 59% of consumers wanted tougher legislation covering how retailers and marketers could take and use their personal details for email marketing and other tasks. However, this isn’t to say that retailers should give up on making contact: in the same survey 64% said they would be perfectly open to email communication provided it was targeted and relevant.


“It is this relevance that is the guiding factor,” Llewellyn said. Successful communication is relevant, useful and does not rely on collecting vast swathes of personal information. Retailers need help from their IT departments to ensure that they are gathering only the appropriate data, analysing it to ensure that it is being used to its best potential and then storing it in a safe, responsible manner. If retailers are careful with their data, use it correctly to identify the best opportunities and don’t treat communication as the equivalent of shouting out of a window into a busy street, they should find themselves in no danger of action from the ICO. Those retailers that do fall foul of the ICO on contacting consumers should perhaps ask themselves if they’re in the right business.”