Data has transformed our lives in every way.  Try to imagine your life without data. Go ahead. We’ll wait. Yep. It’s tempting in some ways, but you’d miss a lot, especially if you consider the impact of data on the business of marketing.  Nay, even the business of business.

Yet, in a well-intentioned effort to protect consumers, Congress and regulators seem determined to restrict or take away marketers’ ability to responsibly use consumer data in marketing.   A fascinating panel at today’s DMA in DC was ably led by Tony Hadley, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Experian, and addressed the various perspectives on how marketing data, used for marketing purposes, has an impact to our data driven way of life.

Erik Jones, Senior Counsel, U.S. Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:  The current Senate investigation is about trying to understand practices that clearly have implications for consumers. This is not an effort to stop fraud or abuse, but to help Senators and the Committee to understand.    Our process is to work with companies to gain understanding and then potentially hold hearings. We are still in the gathering information stage, and so I’m not sure what the next steps will be, if any.

Josh Lynch, Technology Legislative Assistant, Office of Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):  One of Representative Blackburn’s priorities is to “protect the ‘Virtual You.’”  Privacy and data security are very important – free markets work.  Please don’t underestimate the importance of information gathering to the Congressional process.  Government rushing in to set regulation can have negative impact if we don’t work with industry to learn about issues and the practical uses of technology and innovation.   We take a humble approach. We’ve learned that people are hiring in this industry, we don’t want to stop that.

Angel Aloma, Executive Director, Food for the Poor:  We are the nation’s sixth largest charitable organization.  We want to use date properly.  Not everyone in our database is interested in all the areas of our work – housing, the poor, medical, food and protecting women. Without using data, we’d be bombarding them all more often and with information that they don’t want to see. It applies to everyone in commercial and non-profit.   You don’t want to be getting ads or information  that is not relevant to you. Data is what helps us serve our donors – and understand their motives and passions.

Moderator Tony Hadley of Experian:  I feel that when we marketers get charged with not being open about how consumer data is used, that there is some fairness there.  How can industry be more transparent about our practices? How can DMA help us do that?

Rachel Nyswander Thomas, VP, Government Affairs, DMA:  We’ve been victims of our own success.   Congress is now paying attention to us.  That isn’t to say that we should stop with using data responsibly on the back end. We should educate consumers about what we are doing, and what we are NOT doing with information.  Transparency is what we do at DMA. Our initiative to address the threat to data-driven lifestyle, the Data-Driven Marketing Institute, is about creating this transparency and educating regulators and legislators on the benefits of data driven marketing to consumers and the economy.  The time has passed to NOT communicate our responsible practices.

Moderator Tony Hadley of Experian:  Data driven marketing depends on sharing information – does the concept of a data broker even mean anything – who doesn’t share information for marketing purposes?

Angel Aloma, Executive Director, Food for the Poor:  We are not data brokers, but we are heavy users of the consumer data that we have collected.   Does it matter?  Everyone is a data broker if you consider it as the use of consumer data in marketing.

Rachel Nyswander Thomas, VP, Government Affairs, DMA:  It matters more that there is a conversation about the use of data and we all need to participate in that conversation.

Moderator Tony Hadley of Experian:  Our compliance department cites 300  federal and state laws that regulate the use of consumer data.   My question is, do we need another law?

Josh Lynch, Technology Legislative Assistant, Office of Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):   I would not rule out that Congress should legislate, but we must first fully define what is the harm to consumers and what are we really protecting?  What power do consumers not have that they need?   Congress is all about priorities.  We must focus where there is a true definable harm.  This can help improve consumer confidence of interacting with brands online.  That will help all your businesses.

Erik Jones, Senior Counsel, U.S. Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:    We would rather drop the semantics, and focus on whether you sell or share data.  We are trying to understand the lay of land, so Congress can define boundaries and identify areas for potential legislative need.

Moderator Tony Hadley of Experian:  The inquiries in Congress are being conducted very well.   This gives all of us involved, including Experian, a chance to participate and explain how we use data for different purposes – marketing, credit eligibility, fraud detection.   You have given us a chance to explain how we separate and use data for different purposes.  I am now seeing that information come back  out in the FTC report.  It is notable that the FTC now defines that there are different types of marketers with different uses of data.

Erik Jones, Senior Counsel, U.S. Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:  Big data is such a part of our lives – throughout history there has never been more data to be tracked or collected.  To ignore that  or pretend that this massive trend does not have an impact on consumers would be irresponsible.  There is a very important role for Congress in understanding the impact of all this data.

Angel Aloma, Executive Director, Food for the Poor:  The use of data is being demonized by the media.  The public is smelling sulfur that is not there.  It’s great for Congress to go after the bad actors, but we must let the responsible data-driven marketers do what they are doing to create value for consumers and donors.    Do not brush all marketers with the same stroke.

Josh Lynch, Technology Legislative Assistant, Office of Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):   There is a reason why America is the leader in big data. We are a free and open society, but we all know that when the limits are tested, the hammer will come down. We are in a time of revolution for what Rep. Blackburn calls the “natural resource” of data.  We can either use data to benefit consumers and grow markets and create jobs, or we can shy away from it and fear it.  I hope we embrace it and find the right balance to protect consumers, but keep the markets and opportunity, too.  Stopping the harm is the role of Federal government.



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