CASE STUDY 9/97
Data subjects who previously refused direct mail asked to make new choices – fair obtaining
A major data controller is engaged, as part of its operations, in direct mailing to its customers and also in host-mailing (mailing details of offers and services on behalf of third parties). This data controller, correctly, had previously given all its customers an opportunity to decline to receive such mailings.
The data controller contacted me to say that a certain number of people had complained about not receiving mailings — even though they had previously declined them. The data controller suggested that these people had not clearly understood the full consequences of the choices they were making, and proposed to contact them again to ascertain their true wishes. It was intended to send a letter outlining three options – to receive mail from the data controller alone, to also receive mail handled on behalf of third parties, or to receive no direct mailings at all – and seeking each data subject’s preference among these choices.
I took the view that on this occasion I would not seek to prevent the data controller from making contact – once only – with those customers who had previously declined to receive direct mail (though I foresaw a possibility that some customers who had previously declined all direct mailings might take exception to being contacted again and might complain to me, in which case I would of course consider such complaints on their merits). The substance of the proposed approach was that instead of the earlier option of receiving direct mail or not, three options were now being put to customers. In this particular case the balance of advantage appeared to me to lie in giving all customers, including those who had declined any further contact, an opportunity to make a more sophisticated choice. I told the data controller, however, that its proposal was acceptable to me only if it undertook that anyone who did not reply to the letter would be treated as if he or she had positively reiterated the original choice not to receive any mailings at all.
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