What marketers need to know about Europe's new privacy directive

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A new European Union privacy directive is set to take effect on May 25—less than six weeks away—and companies that have databases that include overseas customers and prospects need to take note if they haven't already, said Dennis Dayman, chief privacy and deliverability officer at Eloqua, a provider of marketing automation.

The e-Privacy Directive will require marketers to gain “explicit consent” from website visitors before tracking and storing their information. This will move most marketing programs from an opt-out to an opt-in paradigm and will affect any email marketer that passes subscribers through to a landing page or website in order to read marketing messages or e-newsletters, Dayman said. Penalties and enforcement under the new provisions have not been hammered out yet, but Dayman said companies should prepare now.

“Companies are going to have to start being hyper-transparent so that they can gain acceptance from subscribers and keep sending them highly relevant information,” he said. “They will have to be upfront with them about what they are collecting, how they are collecting it and what they intend to do with that information.”

Each of the 28 member countries of the European Union will have latitude to interpret the directive, which may open a Pandora's Box when it comes to cross-border enforcement, Dayman said. “It could be as easy as segmenting the database so you can apply this standard of law to this database and this one to this database,” he said. “You'll need to apply rules around location so you can ensure the right template and the right controls are in place for the right countries.”

Dayman suggested companies go beyond what he calls “the minimum standard” in order to make people feel comfortable with the process. “You need to say in the form, ‘By hitting submit, you're signing up for emails, and we're going to track behavior so we can send you more relevant offers.' You should also let subscribers know that they can change preferences at any time by going to a specific page, give them the link to that page and suggest that they bookmark the link.”

Even if some recipients choose to opt out of tracking, all is not lost, Dayman said, adding that the directive may allow marketers to keep old data. “You can still mine it to better target your emails and offers, and provide relevant content,” he said.

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