The date marketers have long had marked on their calendars – May 25 – has been and gone and GDPR is here. Just as we saw with the fear around the Millennium Bug, the big date has passed and businesses are still operating as usual. Now, organisations are expected to be more open and honest with customers as to how their data is used.

While the GDPR hysteria may finally calm down, we shouldn’t forget that the regulation applies to anyone in possession of EU data, even tech giants like Google and Facebook. Mr Zuckerberg may have a lot on his plate at the moment but complying with data protection laws needs to remain a top priority.

He once claimed that Facebook was built on privacy and trust. It’s a statement that seems increasingly difficult to believe as stories on the company’s questionable data collection policies dominate the headlines. Facebook may be reluctant to face up to it, but these stories are not going to disappear, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and GDPR putting data security firmly in the spotlight.

Some sectors are going to find GDPR compliance much harder than others, and none more so than programmatic advertising. As an industry, it’s extremely lucrative, with brands spending £45.1 billion on programmatic last year alone. It has been tremendously profitable for tech giants like Google and Facebook, transforming the face of digital advertising. The role of ad sales has been reduced to the brink of redundancy and the process of buying and placing ads has become much more cost efficient. Unfortunately for the likes of Facebook, programmatic also depends on the free flow and use of data in a way which is threatened by the introduction of GDPR.

Further changes ahead

It is important to establish the difference between two pieces of legislation, both of which are changing – the Data Protection Act and the ePrivacy Directive.

GDPR replaces the outdated Data Protection Act, which was introduced in 1998. It addresses the fact that big corporations have gone unchecked in recent years, with little mention of online issues in the previous regulation. This should be welcomed by marketers because it will hand control over personal data back to the consumer, ultimately leading to more transparent, engaged and profitable relationships.

The Privacy & Electronic Communication Regulation (PECR) will continue to apply to electronic marketing (including email) save for a few new GDPR requirements in terms of how consent is now gathered until it is replaced by the ePrivacy Regulation in 2019/20. However, Brussels is still debating the specifics of the ePrivacy Regulation. The furore around the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal has ensured that no matter how passionate the pleas of the most-able of Brussels lobbyists, the fate for American tech companies who favour programmatic is now set and I believe destined for the ‘trash can!’

Powerful pushback

With large sums of money at stake, these changes to regulation will inevitably be met by a certain level of resistance. We’re bound to see the ‘big boys’ of programmatic kick up a fuss – but the good news for consumers is that it’s unlikely to sway the regulators. Regardless of power or influence, businesses of all sizes need to take GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation seriously in order to avoid serious financial and reputational damage.

While there remains a significant role for programmatic within CRM and loyalty programmes however the wanton use of European Citizen data and an inability to comply with erasure rules will significantly limit its future use for acquisition.

Away from the programmatic world, marketers who respect customer data and prepare effectively have nothing to fear from the implementation of GDPR. We can expect a return to a more consumer-focused approach to marketing, with more certainty and accountability over who is being targeted and why. We should remember that transparency is great for business; increasing trust between brands and their customers. This is not to be underestimated in today’s marketing landscape.

With higher customer expectations and lower brand loyalty, forming strong relationships with customers will enable brands to thrive in the future. 25th May was just the start of the journey and I look forward to a return to more honest advertising, facilitated by PEOPLE, not machines.