By Daniel Hunter

Following calls to tighten regulations around mis-use of data and news that consumers remain bombarded by unwanted calls and texts despite signing up to the Telephone Preference Service, KPMG’s Kirsten Mycroft, a senior manager in the Information Protection and Business resilience team, has said that consumer preferences can no longer be ignored in a digital world.

“Consumers are tiring of burdensome “opt out” arrangements to avoid unsolicited calls, texts or e-mails and, if they feel harassed, having. to prove that their private data had been used inappropriately," Kirsten said.

"Consumer pressure, coupled with regulatory developments, means the burden of proof is shifting towards businesses; they can’t just use data because it’s in their possession and are rightly accountable for its proper use.

"For those prepared to declare their hand, there is no problem — but when the responsibility for showing that customer data is being managed and used appropriately is being ignored, we face a far bigger issue. Put simply, it remains easy to block a caller’s number, so how can you police and protect privacy when some businesses hide behind a cloak of invisibility?

“It may be the case that a gap exists between the way consumers believe their personal information is being used and the way that it is actually being handled by many businesses. At the very least, if the current situation is left unchecked, the combination of opaque privacy guidelines and naive internet users has the potential to lead to consumers losing faith in their favourite brands and damaged corporate reputations.

“Of course, it’s important to balance the risks associated with the privacy of consumer data with the benefits of the digital world. If organisations want to make use of customer data, they need to effectively sell the benefits to their customers of using or sharing their data. For example, understanding customer preferences and likes should reduce the likelihood of them being targeted with irrelevant information, products and services.

“Compare this situation with the general resistance to government agencies having access to the personal information of its citizens — here, the benefits of sharing personal information have so far arguably been articulated far less effectively.

“The point is that, if tackled effectively, the potential for businesses to achieve a competitive advantage is significant. By aligning their online and other direct marketing privacy standards with customers’ ethical standards they can use it as a point of differentiation. As more of our lives are spent in the virtual world, consumers will have ever more at stake — and they will have more to lose should their privacy, in their view, be exploited by businesses. As a result, online privacy and customer data are issues which will require an increasingly sophisticated response.”

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