In the spirit of candour, in my near five years on this magazine I have allocated several pages of edit to topics which don’t exactly set the pulses racing. This isn’t to denigrate the content, it is merely to acknowledge that material of the greatest utility is often material of the greatest mundanity. I don’t think I will provoke a chorus of disapproval by suggesting that my cover story this issue could be filed away in the drawer marked ‘useful but vanilla’. Indeed, if someone had told me that I would lavish such a prosaic topic as data regulation with a front cover and five precious pages within the magazine I may well have questioned their/my sanity.
Yet, here I am not so much flying over the cuckoos’ nest but straight into it – and unapologetically so. For, whilst reading about data regulation may well rival a month in solitary confinement entertainment-wise, the impending arrival of the new general data protection regulation (GDPR) in May is a matter of utmost importance.
I won’t spoil your ‘fun’ by regurgitating too much of the information contained within the feature in this column but, to whet your appetite, as magazine regular Paul Smith, Managing Director, Traka, puts it: “(GDPR) is an opportunity to tidy up those marketing databases, clearing out the ‘Augean stables’ of legacy personal data with a view to serving customers and prospects with more highly-targeted marketing materials and offers.”
Paul’s description chimes with the overall tenor of the feature; it is designed to quash the rather more lurid aspects of reporting around GDPR and, instead, provide a temperate and measured view of a regulation which could potentially be of as much benefit to businesses as it could be to customers. You don’t have to be Don Draper (the maverick advertising executive in ‘Mad Men’, for those whose lives have yet to be enhanced by this peerless series) to diagnose that a business will benefit from marketing to a database that has proactively demonstrated willingness to be contacted about a specific product. Many businesses, crossing all industries, take advantage of the nebulous regulation instituted by the Data Protection Act 1998 just to carpet bomb the public. If GDPR can help mitigate this endemically lazy and unscrupulous approach to direct marketing then it should be warmly welcomed – not viewed as red-tape, as it is in some quarters. Indeed, I would make a wider point that the relationship between business and regulation needs to comprehensively deconstructed and then re-mantled in a far more synergised fashion. Business and regulation should not be seen in dialectic; they should be seen as the same side of the same coin. A comprehensively regulated market is only injurious to the unethical and plutocratic agendas of transnational and supranational corporations. For the majority of law-abiding, tax paying smaller businesses that give so much to society and the economy, regulation is far more likely to assist than to impede.
So I applaud this new data regulation and would urge the regulator (ICO) to punish those who flout it with the zealousness of a Spanish inquisitor. Only if the ICO is shown to have teeth will GDPR be taken seriously.