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Be careful what you ’sign’ online

The problem with data protection is not that we don’t have a suitable scheme in place to protect individuals, but that too many sites either don’t care about the customers whose data they collect, or they simply can’t be bothered to set up a good customer service.

Example one. I registered recently on a games site in Canada, just to test it. To be smart, I registered with an email address that was used exclusively for that website. Within a day, I started getting spam to that address, and routinely get four items a day, each from a different list broker in the US or Canada. I have had to go to all these providers and unsubscribe or even threaten them with further action. The deluge stopped quickly, but the reason was obvious to me. The games company has a deal with these companies where it immediately sells registrants’ data the moment it gets it. I’m not naive enough to think that doesn’t happen, but what angered me was the fact that the website provided no terms and conditions, or privacy policy, indicating that it did this. They not only lost my loyalty but I now warn everyone I can not to touch them with a barge-pole. I won’t name them here for legal reasons.

I sent them an email telling them I’d found them out, and they had the cheek to reply they do not sell data, they only send out emails in their own name (not one of the spams mentioned them at all) and when they do emailusers they always provide an unsubscribe option. I mailed them back telling them they were lying and they haven’t replied.

Example two. I registered on a UK competitions site to enter prize draws. I did not read the privacy policy, which clearly states they will send me adverts from third parties AND pass my details to other people at their whim. Fair enough, so I decided to tell them I didn’t want this to happen, as is my legal right. Their website allows me to log in and see my personal details, but offers no way to tell them I don’t want them selling my data, and no way to tell them to stop sending me stuff. I have had to email them to tell them that I want them to delete me from their database completely, which I legally cannot force them to do. I haven’t had a response. So for all I know my email is now in the hands of unscrupulous marketers and I can’t seem to do anything about it.

In the first example, the website’s behaviour is simply unscrupulous and despicable, and in breach of UK data protection law, although they are based in Canada. In the second example, the website simply has not offered the full facilities required by data protection laws and allowed me to stop them selling my data. Forget the law for a moment, all companies storing and using customer data commercially have a moral obligation to act fairly and responsibly and, always, to give the customer every opportunity to control how their data is used. Customers will respect you more for it and be worth a lot more in the long run.

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