Privacy Policy Best Practices: Benefit from Better Disclosure

Margaret Farmakis
By Margaret Farmakis
Senior Director, Response Consulting

Data is the crack-cocaine of email marketing. The more you get, the more you want, and marketers are often incredibly greedy when it comes to collecting data, asking for information they don’t really need and often never use. Some marketers can even be secretive about their collection practices, and don’t want their subscribers to know how or where their information is being collected, what it’s going to be used for and who it’s going to be shared with.

However, the reality is that marketers do need data to create relevant experiences for their customers and prospects; without data, targeting, personalization and segmentation would be impossible. It’s to the subscriber’s benefit to share their information (within reason) and give marketers a sense of who they are, what they like, where they live, how and when they’d like to be contacted and what they want from an email relationship with the marketer.

Where marketers often fall short is respecting that subscribers took the time to give them their information and remembering that the relationship is really all about the subscriber (not a forum for the marketer’s press releases, product updates or company news). They can also come up short when it comes to disclosure. Some marketers think it’s better to bury their collection practices in paragraphs of legalese that confuse and mislead the subscriber. This approach assumes that the less the subscriber knows the better.

For marketers sending email to the UK this is actually illegal, according to the Data Protection Act. But no matter where in the world you send hiding your data collection practices is also counterproductive to the marketer-subscriber relationship. When subscribers are clear about how their information will (or won’t) be used, what they’ll be receiving into their inboxes, when they’ll be receiving it and how it will benefit them, they are more likely to be active and engaged, and more likely to make a purchase and become brand ambassadors, rather than brand detractors.
The good news is that marketers have an excellent tool at their disposal to help educate subscribers about how their data will be used and pave the way to a positive relationship: the privacy policy. The importance of the privacy policy is often overlooked as marketers focus their attention on their sig-up forms, their creative, and the data they want to collect. However a well written privacy policy can be a marketer’s most effective tool in gaining subscriber trust and setting clear expectations about the relationship.

For UK marketers who need help complying with the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has recently released a terrific guide that outlines what the purpose of a privacy policy is, the information it should contain, the tone it should take and why an effective privacy policy can help enhance the marketer-subscriber relationship. The ICO wisely recommends that marketers put themselves in the subscriber’s shoes when requesting information, and ask themselves the following questions:

  • Would the subscriber know who is collecting the information?
  • Would they understand why you are collecting it?
  • Would they understand the implications of this?
  • Would they be likely to object or complain?

Additionally, they recommend that a marketer’s privacy policy should be written in language that is easy to understand. So leave out the “hereto fore’s,” “hither to’s,” and “pursuant to’s” and use simple language that clearly lets subscribers know your intentions. The ICO’s guide includes some great examples of privacy policies that follow best practices (and those that don’t). I highly recommend that all marketers – even those not emailing to the UK – review this guide for its really helpful advice on privacy policy best practices.

Marketers will always be reliant on data to inform their messaging strategies, but there’s no need to conceal data collection practices or treat them like a dirty habit that can’t be kicked. Subscribers are more likely to give you the information you want (and need) if they understand what the benefits are to doing so and are assured that you’ll respect their privacy. Disclosure is always preferable to deception.

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