Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Avoiding invasions of privacy

Fashionista knows that personal information is one of most valuable currencies of the twenty first century, including for websites in the fashion industry. Its value can, however, be diminished, and relationships with customers damaged, if privacy is not taken seriously.

Here are some top tips which our friends at law firm Olswang have put together for online retailers and others wanting to capture customers' data:

1. Work out what personal information you need and what you are going to do with it. You should only collect the information you need to provide your services, so a bit of thought about what this actually means pays dividends. You should communicate to customers the ways in which you will handle that information and, in an online context, this is often done via a privacy policy.

2. Obtain consent, where possible, at the actual point of data collection, particularly where it is important for the customer to understand non-obvious uses that you intend to make of the data (for example, giving their information to a third party). The concept of "consent" is more "light touch" in the UK compared to the rest of Europe, so if you are a pan-European fashionista you need to take consent particularly seriously, because continental Europeans do.

3. A special word about email. Fashion followers like to be kept up to date, but they will only appreciate an unsolicited marketing email if they have consented to receive it. The way in which you obtain that consent is also important – the Information Commissioner's Office ("ICO") recommendations in its Privacy Notices Code of Practice are good practice (and many continental Europeans would say they are the law anyway).

4. Notify the ICO that you want to collect or process personal information. The process is simple and, unless you are exempt, failure to do so is a criminal offence.

The ICO has a range of enforcement powers for those who don’t follow the relevant legislation, including the ability to fine companies or in some cases even to prevent them using certain personal information they have collected.

The only tip on matters of style that Fashionista dares to venture is that giving a good customer experience in matters of privacy is likely to be more fashionable in 2010 than doing the absolute minimum to comply with the law.

For more information contact Marc Dautlich on