Permission marketing: Understanding what data you can use when

With GDPR now only a year and a month away, permission is increasingly becoming a watch word for marketers. Direct marketing, and particularly direct mail due to its personal nature and tangibility, will always be a powerful part of the marketing mix – but only so long as it is correctly used, as the Met Police has found out.

Thirty thousand gun owners in the Capital recently received a mailing from Smartwater and The Metropolitan Police promoting a labelling service for firearms. Smartwater is an invisible ink that can be viewed under UV light so police can easily trace the owners of stolen property. Whilst this might seem on the surface of it, a useful solution, gun owners were perplexed given that the police can already easily trace the owners of stolen guns through the serial numbers – even if they have been removed.

More concerning, however, is the issue of permission. When gun owners apply for a firearms certificate it is made clear that the police will only share the information with GPs, other government departments, regulatory bodies or enforcement agencies in the course of either deciding the application or in pursuance of maintaining public safety or the peace. Sharing the data with a commercial third party (in this case Smartwater) and using it for marketing purposes is a breach of the Firearm certificate’s data protection statement. This is clearly a case of an organisation using the data it holds without fully understanding its responsibility to that data.

The simple fact of the matter is that moving forward data cannot be used for marketing purposes unless the organisation has explicit consent from the data subject. No matter how tempting it might be to utilise the data unless permissions are in place the ICO will have the power to fine organisations up to four per cent of their global turnover. It is crucial that over the next year the direct marketing industry takes a lead in educating clients about permission marketing or risk further damaging the reputation of direct mail; despite its proven effectiveness, and huge fines.