• July 20, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

New EU Regulations to Affect Email, Online Marketing

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The European Union has drafted Web and email tracking regulations that will affect every marketer or retailer that interacts electronically with customers and prospects within the 28 member states.

The regulations took effect May 25, but some, like the United Kingdom, have delayed action for up to a year to find a solution that is more business-friendly.

“We recognize that some Web site users have real concerns around online privacy but also recognize that cookies play a key role in the smooth running of the Internet,” Ed Vaizey, the U.K.’s communications minister, said in a recent BBC article. “But it will take some time for workable technical solutions to be developed, evaluated and rolled out, so we have decided that a phased-in approach is right.”

Under an amendment to the EU privacy directive, organizations conducting online marketing in the member states must receive explicit permission, or opt-in consent, to track any individual’s actions online, including the use of cookies. Cookies are text files that help organize and store browsing information, but they can be used for other purposes. Retailers and third parties use them to analyze consumer-browsing habits, but they also help consumers by remembering payment details when buying products online.

Depending on the country, marketers might need permission before sending materials via email. Marketers, e-retailers, and others that rely on such information can get consent in a number of ways: post a click-box on their Web sites, request site visitors to fill out a form that pops up on screen, or ask customers to set their browsers to accept or reject cookies from the sites they visit.

In the U.K., the government has formed a working group with browser makers to seek a browser-based solution. The latest versions of Explorer and Firefox offer consumers some protection, and Google is reportedly working on similar protections for its Chrome.

Many European privacy groups pushing for greater regulation of cookies want users to be able to give consent to every cookie presented. But many online firms argue that multiple consent forms would be too disruptive to consumers, who would see an endless stream of pop-ups.

“This is different than in the U.S.,” says Dennis Dayman, chief privacy and security officer at Eloqua, a provider of electronic marketing solutions. “In the U.S., you have to opt out. There, you have to opt in.”

The European laws will impact multinational corporations the most, according to Dayman. “If a company is headquartered in the U.S., the laws do not apply, but if it has subsidiaries in other countries, it could be affected,” he says.

What’s definite, though, is that the new regulations will affect how companies do business in Europe.

“They add complexity to CRM practices,” Dayman says. While most of Europe has taken a wait-and-see approach, Dayman expects the laws to get stricter as governments try to protect the privacy of their citizens.

Dayman suggests that companies might have greater success receiving permission from customers by properly wording their consent requests. “Tracking is seen as a negative, but if you can tell customers that the information you are collecting will help you to better serve them, you’ll get a better response,” he states.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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