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You Don’t Need to be Meta to Carry GDPR Risk

The estimated reading time for this post is 7 minutes

As the General Data Protection Regulation Framework (GDPR) nears its fifth birthday, Ireland has given Meta Platforms a gift that it will keep on giving.  

As reported in Bloomberg earlier today, the European Union (EU), via the Republic of Ireland (where Meta Europe is domiciled)  fined Meta Platforms Inc. a record-breaking €1.2 billion for failing to shield user data from American security services. The fine follows a protracted controversy over US data protection policies. According to the Irish Data Protection Commission, the risks to people’s fundamental rights and freedoms were not effectively addressed by Meta’s data transfers to the US. In addition to the penalty, Meta has been given a deadline to stop processing and storing transferred personal data illegally in the US, as well as to stop all future data transfers to the US.

With regard to major infractions, the GDPR has given EU regulators extensive authority to levy fines of up to 4% of a company’s annual revenue. As most of the market’s major internet and data vendors consider Dublin their European HQ, the Irish Data Protection Commission has come under fire for taking the primary role in privacy regulation for big internet companies having a presence in Ireland..

Exploring the implications of user consent and data access in contemporary advertising channels, in this article we discuss the  intricacies of GDPR compliance, and highlight what organizations need to consider when collecting and utilizing customer data in the pursuit of effective marketing and sales strategies.

Understanding user engagement on advertising platforms: The Consent Conundrum

It’s crucial to analyze the connection between user engagement and permission to access personal data in the world of digital advertising, where platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, and Instagram dominate.

Informed consent: GDPR requires organizations to obtain explicit and informed consent from users before processing their personal data.

Transparency: Users should be adequately informed about the specific data being collected, the purposes for which it will be used, and the entities involved in its processing.

Consent: Opt-in requests must be written in clear and concise language so that anyone can understand what they’re agreed to opt-in to.

Necessity and Proportionality: Determining the Scope of Data Access

When considering the extent of data that can be accessed upon user engagement, organizations must adopt a necessity and proportionality approach, meaning that they collect and process only the data required to achieve their marketing and sales objectives.

Minimal data principle: Organizations should collect and process the least amount of data necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

Context matters: The scope of data access may vary depending on the context of user engagement. For instance, collecting just the name and email address may suffice for a newsletter subscription, while a more comprehensive dataset may be required for a product purchase.

For example, a number of data tools have an enhanced or update feature that opens in a new window; Allowing you to fill in the data blanks with critical demographic and firmographic information that can drive your go-to-market motions.

Data Privacy by Design: Building Trust in Marketing and Sales Practices

Embedding data privacy into marketing and sales practices is vital for organizations to foster trust with their users and compliance with GDPR.

Privacy-centric design: Implementing privacy by design principles ensures that data protection measures are incorporated into marketing and sales processes from the very beginning.

Data minimization: Limiting the collection and retention of personal data to what is necessary for marketing and sales purposes reduces the risk of non-compliance with GDPR.

Secure data storage: Organizations should adopt robust security measures to safeguard the personal data they collect, ensuring its confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Still think that GDPR doesn’t apply to you?

I’m sure you’re saying this to yourself as you read this article or maybe you sought some legal counsel in 2018 when GDPR was being rolled out and were told the same.  Perhaps you should ask the team at Clearview AI that were recently fined €5.2 million for not complying with France’s inquiries relating to how they manage their data (Clearview is a series C start up with 30 employees on Linkedin).

And while a fine and your name smeared all over the internet as being not careful with client and prospect data is likely bad for business, imagine what will happen when you’re not allowed to operate in the world’s third largest trading zone.

For some clarity and fun check the GDPR Enforcement Tracker for a list of fines and other compliance violations.

Creating Safe GDPR Sales and Marketing Motions

So, given the current litigious environment, how do we ensure that our sales and marketing motions are safe 

As businesses strive to thrive in today’s digital landscape, it is crucial to create a balance between successful marketing and sales tactics and GDPR compliance as firms attempt to prosper in the digital environment while protecting user privacy in the European Union. In addition to navigating the GDPR’s complexity, businesses may forge a route to sustainable growth and long-term success by adopting transparent permission processes, engaging in data minimization, and prioritizing privacy by design.

These firms should make sure that their marketing and sales operations follow GDPR best practices and make use of GDPR compliant contact data sources.  

This means that each opening email for a cold outreach campaign should:

  1. To ensure GDPR compliance in your cold emails, prioritize targeted prospects and have a valid reason for contacting them. Only collect and use necessary data relevant to your purpose. Avoid requesting unnecessary information, such as phone numbers or addresses.
  2. Obtain explicit consent or rely on one of the lawful bases for processing data under the GDPR (consent, contract, legal obligation, vital interest, public interest, or legitimate interest). Clearly explain how you acquired the prospect’s email and provide a reason for contacting them.
  3. When using legitimate interest as a lawful basis for processing, ensure your reasons align with the ICO’s guidelines. Mention specific factors, such as how your product supports their goals, recent investments, shared industry, networking, or relevant expansion plans.
  4. Make unsubscribing easy and provide an automated unsubscribe link. Instruct recipients on how to remove their data or opt-out. Promptly delete data upon deletion requests.
  5. Regularly maintain and update your database, removing inactive or incorrect leads. Keep track of how you collected and processed personal data. Notify subscribers when collaborating with other companies and sharing subscription lists.
  6. Prioritize data security by keeping records of authorization levels, retaining data only as long as necessary, and ensuring the systems and software you use are GDPR compliant. Encrypt and anonymize data where possible.
  7. Be responsive to prospect complaints and inquiries regarding their data usage. Address their concerns and be prepared to answer questions about data sources and information you possess.

For those who use the phone as their primary outreach tool here’s a list of best practices that should be followed:

  1. Prioritize compliance with do not call lists: Before making any calls, ensure that all phone numbers are screened against TPS/CTPS in the UK and other European do not call lists. Remember that respecting individuals’ preference not to be called is more important than any legitimate interest.
  2. Document the source of phone numbers: Maintain a record of how you obtained each phone number in your CRM. It is crucial to be able to demonstrate that you acquired them legitimately.
  3. Simplify opt-out process: Make it easy for prospects to opt-out of future contact and provide a clear mechanism for erasing their data upon request.
  4. Communicate privacy policies: Include privacy policies that clearly inform prospects about their rights under the GDPR.
  5. Leverage technology for call management: Utilize technology tools to effectively manage your calls, including maintaining a call history and tracking the frequency of calls to specific numbers.
  6. Safeguard personal data: Ensure that your prospects’ personal data is protected at all times, adhering to the highest standards of data security.
  7. Provide data protection training: Train your salespeople on data protection practices, GDPR regulations, and how to conduct compliant cold calls.

Remember that these adjustments may seem challenging initially, but they only require slight changes in approach. In outbound sales, the focus should always be on solving a prospect’s problem. Successful sales teams do not waste time contacting individuals unless they genuinely believe they can offer assistance.

By implementing these suggestions, along with partnering with compliant B2B data providers (we know a few), your team will consistently maintain GDPR compliance while achieving sales success.

Summing up

Startups and businesses of all sizes that choose to ignore GDPR rules should do so at their own peril.  And don’t think that just because you’re not located in the EU that GDPR doesn’t apply to your EU data set (because you’re dead wrong).  As described above, there are methods and mechanisms to complete effective initial or cold outreach and be GDPR compliant, the only question is: when will you be examined by the authorities and will you pass their examination?


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