Privacy Matters: Co-op Databases and Consumer Privacy
One of the important parts of my job, leading the Direct Marketing Association’s ethics and consumer affairs activities, is hearing reactions to the practices of individual companies — and the direct marketing community in general — directly from consumers. These real world anecdotes allow us at the DMA to identify emerging concerns and issues that we can help you address and solve.
Lately we’ve noticed a new trend that most catalogers need to address: how consumers exercise their privacy choices in a world of co-op databases.
The usual scenario: Someone calls a company and asks to be removed from its mailing list, asking, “Where did you get my information from in the first place?” The DMA’s Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice requires members to disclose this source to consumers when asked.
A growing complaint is that customers are being told there are “multiple,” “combined” or “pool” sources, and that it isn’t possible to identify a single source for their information. Or the customer service reps say they don’t know the source, because many catalog companies share mailing lists and there is no way to track back to the original source.
I suspect that one of the things marketers struggle with is explaining cooperative databases to a confused and often untrusting public.
The benefits of co-ops are obvious: They’re a great source of new and profitable consumer audiences, and can help ensure the accuracy of consumer data, since the input from many sources tends to build consistency. They offer new businesses the benefit of the selling experience of those already established in the marketplace.
But no matter where you get your information, you have a responsibility to respond to consumer questions in a way that is helpful, accurate and fair.
The DMA requires its members to disclose the source of personally identifiable information so that when consumers ask that age-old question — “How did you get my name?” — catalogers and other direct marketers answer in a way that’s honest and helps consumers exercise their choices, including the choice not to receive further mail from that source.