April 20th, 2012 by Judith Aquino

I recently celebrated my birthday (I won’t say which one) and along with my close friends and family, several businesses made the effort to wish me a happy birthday (thanks!). The fact that shopkeepers are more likely to remember my birthday than people whom I’ve actually met is no longer groundbreaking. What I found creepy, however, were the birthday postcards from businesses I don’t recall ever dealing with.

Some people might brush that off as savvy marketing, but for me, it’s a reminder of how little control I have over how my personal information is being shared. As for marketers, it is difficult to determine how far they should go in pursuing targeted advertising.

In a Forrester report that was released yesterday, How Dirty Is Your Data?, senior analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo describes personal data as a “ticking time bomb.”

“Because today’s privacy policies tend to be full of legalese and obfuscation, marketers often have a hard time discerning whether they’re in compliance or not,” Khatibloo writes in her report.

Khatibloo notes that legislators are increasingly pursuing stricter regulations against abuses of personal data. The European Union’s e-Privacy Directive is the latest law to grab headlines. Starting May 26, Web marketers will be required to get permission from users before placing cookies on the users’ computers, a common practice for delivering targeted advertising. Failure to comply carries a fine of £500,000 ($805,550).

There is no doubt that personalized advertisements are more likely to catch the attention of consumers, however, marketers risk losing access to customer data and possibly incurring fines unless they can earn their customers’ trust.

The first step is to have a clear data governance plan. According to Khatibloo, a data governance policy should carry out five actions: strategically curate data capture; define and abide by “appropriate use” rules; revalidate data; purge obsolete data; and protect customer data.

Whether or not companies adopt these strategies or something similar remains to be seen. In the meantime, I will continue to glance at the personalized advertisements and emails that I receive before remembering that my budget barely lets me shop anyway.

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