GDPR achieved one unexpected thing in the privacy battle

Image credit: Eugene Partyzan /

It is easy to dismiss the GDPR debacle as just that, a debacle. No one is prepared for it, not even government departments that are meant to be enforcing it. No one has seen any change in the amount of spam that clogs up their inboxes and many companies simply did nothing about it, not even sending out a new privacy notice. Some companies made a rod for their own backs by sending out an ‘opt-in’ email when they didn’t have to – and lost who knows how many club members or subscribers in the process.

So it was a failure, a classic example of regulation using hope over experience, of not learning that everything that involves business takes three times longer than you think, and if it involves government probably ten.


Well …

To say that GDPR is a failure is too simplistic.

For one thing, it helped publicize the fact that there are data barons out there, robbing you of your data and selling it the highest bidder to make billions of dollars.

And more and more, the regulators of the world are lining up behind the consumer – as they should. They are summoning the data barons to account for themselves, and getting quite cross when Facebook and Google send managers rather than C-levels for their ‘interviews without coffee’. And, of course, there are those privacy advocates who will use GDPR as an excuse to bring Google, Facebook and others to book.

Meanwhile in every corner of the world, these advocates are sensing their opportunity. They’re sensing that, for once, they have the chance to head the bad guys off at the pass – to stop them essentially blackmailing their entire customer base into giving up their data.

A couple of years ago we interviewed Doc Searls, a privacy advocate based at Harvard. He was forming a network of like-minded people – mainly in universities – to develop a new model for consumers and advertisers.

Instead of ‘customer relationship management’, he dubbed it ‘vendor relationship management’ and basically turned the tables. ABI Research suggested a similar idea recently. The model is that a customer who is actually in the market for a pair of shoes can say so, and shoe companies can send him offers and adverts.

At the time this seemed a little simplistic and tricky to understand how it would work. Would the customer who flagged his desire for shoes be pooled with other shoe people? Would there be forums? How would it work?

It could work if you belonged to a club or other community and you were looking for something specific – that would perhaps be enough to attract the attention of vendors.

It could also work if there was something on your device that was independent of any vendors where you could input ‘shoes, ankle boot, slight heel’ (obviously your device knows your shoe size already). This is then put onto a platform that is available to shoe companies (for a fee perhaps) and they could put their best offers and suggestions forward via the independent platform for onward transmission to the customer.

Like everything that is happening at the moment, it is hard to predict how it will pan out.

One thing is for sure, though – the tide has turned on the data barons, and in a few years’ time we might well be looking at least at a two way street, if not a complete reversal of traffic. And we might even look back on the GDPR with some fondness.

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