'Fair data' logo sets ethical standards for collecting consumer data

Market Research Society standard backed by ICO

Consumers worried about how their personal data might be misused by private and public sector organisations can from today look for a new 'Fair Data' logo to calm their worries, the Market Research Society (MRS) has announced.

Launched on Data Privacy Day, 28 January, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the Information Commissioner, the MRS claims its 10-point set of principles [PDF] will set a new benchmark for the ethical handling of data.

Organisations wanting to display the kitemark will have to agree to gain explicit consent from customers for data collection, impose data security, ensure that data is only used for purpose for which it was collected, and allow consumer access to any data held.

They will also have to impose the same standards on any third-parties that might gains access to the data in their supply chain.

According to the MRS, consumers currently lack control over how data supplied by them is used by commercial organisations that have grown accustomed to re-purposing it for marketing campaigns.

Any organisation displaying the Fair Data logo will have signed up to treat that data in a "transparent and ethical manner with full respect to regulated standards of data privacy and security," said the MRS.

"We believe that there is a real need to help the public identify with whom they can trust their data. Public concern is at an all-time high and we are getting increasing numbers of complaints about data use," said MRS Chief Executive, Jane Frost.

"This is about fundamental respect for the people whose data we all rely on for commercial and public purposes and about getting to the very basis of the right way information should be gathered," she said.

In the short run, two problems must be overcome, starting with how the public understands what the Fair Data mark actually means and grows to trust it.

Having set the bar high, a second issue could be the dearth of organisations that have signed up to it on day one; launch signatories include GlaxoSmithKline, PricewaterhouseCoopers, GfK Nop, Paddy Power, backed by worthies such as the Royal Statistical Society and, of course, the ICO.

"If the public are to let their personal data be used then they need to know which organisations they can trust to use it properly," commented Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

"I welcome this initiative as a step in the direction of getting users of public data to make such a public commitment to standards."

The list of participants is a start but more household names will be needed to give the logo consumer credibility.

The MRS said it would offer an advisory service to ensure organisations were supported when adopting the principles, and underlined that all participants not MRS accredited would face mandatory audits by the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) within 12 months of joining.

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