Do you send direct marketing emails or texts to your customers or web/app users? Then Don’t miss these simple tips to make sure you’ve obtained the necessary consent first.

One of most common questions mobile app and website owners ask relates to the use of personal data for marketing purposes. There’s a whole raft of regulations dealing with consents, including opt ins, soft opt ins and opt outs and how these differ across text, e-mails, mail and phone. We can’t sum up everything in the space of a page or so, but these simple DOs and DON’Ts are based on the ICO’s own guidance put together earlier this month. That guidance can be found here, and a useful checklist, here.

DO – take it seriously

Direct marketing covers any advertising or marketing material which is directed at particular individuals. The Information Commissioner’s Office regulates such activity in the UK and has the authority to impose penalties of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the regulations.

DO – ensure consent is properly given

Adequate consent must be “freely given”, “specific” and “informed”. The strictness with which this is enforced depends on the type of marketing method. For example, consent to receive electronic marketing calls or messages (e.g. text, e-mail), consents must be “extremely clear and specific”. In practice, this means that any wording next to a tick box should specifically name the organisation and the marketing method that can be used.

In practice, the ICO recommends that the safest way of obtaining consent is through a “opt in” tick box, on the basis that it presents “a positive choice by the individual to give clear and express consent.”

DO – make checks on marketing lists

If you are buying a marketing list, you are expected to undertake rigorous checks to ensure that the seller of the list has obtained the personal data lawfully. This is especially the case if you intend on sending those individuals e-mails or texts, because of how specific consent has to be to allow marketing using these channels. The due diligence and enquiries you make need to be reasonable and should include checks on:

  • Who compiled the list and when did it take place?
  • When was consent obtained and how?
  • What information was provided when giving consent?
  • Did the information specifically mention how contact would be made? Is it applicable to what you want to do?

DON’T – rely on indirect consent

Indirect or “third party” consent is when an individual tells an organisation that they are happy for their details to be passed to third parties. This will usually be in the form marketing list, as described above. Although some forms of marketing to individuals who have given such consent is permissible, it’s unlikely to be sufficient for marketing by e-mail or text, where the rules are much stricter. In order to validly market through these channels, consent would have to be extremely clear and specific, as described above.

DON’T – assume consent is forever

The actual duration of consent will depend on the circumstances. The ICO give the example of consent to receive materials in respect of a particular marketing campaign. Once that campaign is complete, consent can’t be taken to extend to further campaigns.

DO – give the option to “opt out”

If an individual has said they no longer want to receive marketing materials, you must stop sending them. In addition, you mustn’t make it difficult or overly complicated to opt out of receiving materials. Details of the individual should go onto a suppression list, as opposed to simply deleted. Suppression involves retaining enough details on an individual to ensure they are not marketed to again, and ensuring they stay off any lists or databases compiling individuals to be marketed to.

DO – remember the “existing customers” exception

The requirement for specific consent does not apply to the sending of electronic messages if:

  • Details of the individual were obtained during a sale of goods or services;
  • The marketing material only relates to their own similar goods or services to those obtained during the sale; AND

The individual is given an option to opt out when the details were collected and such an option is given in every message sent thereafter (e.g. a notice at the foot of any e-mail correspondence or an option to “STOP” at the end of a text).