Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Online risks of social media

Social media networking has rapidly become a crucial tool for thriving businesses, but many could be breaking the law just by using it.

Our senior partner Graham Davies said many companies were now engaging with their customers through all kinds of methods including Twitter and Facebook.

“In years gone by, a listing in the Yellow Pages or a local business directory was the way to go, but increasingly social media is becoming a tool that cannot be ignored. The trouble is that some businesses may not realise that data protection laws apply to social media just as they do to more traditional forms of communication.”

Graham said as well as interacting with customers on social media, some businesses also ran a company blog or a forum linked to their website.

“The Information Commissioner’s Office has warned that many companies could be breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 with their online activities. It has said companies should take just as much care with their efforts in the virtual world as they do with other methods of promotion, and the office is now paying close attention to what’s happening online.”

Graham said formal guidelines had been published by the ICO and that company bosses should ensure they followed them to the letter.

“Equally companies should be very cautious about approaching customers and potential customers with direct marketing. Whether you’re making a telephone call, sending a text message or an email, all these sales methods are covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

“There are strict rules about having the customer’s permission to send them information like this – and just because they’ve agreed to receive phone calls from you, you can’t then simply email them aswell with your latest offers.

“They must have specifically agreed to receive your information in their chosen form and one permission doesn’t automatically open the flood gates for you to bombard them with all your promotional merchandise. Bear in mind too, that the ICO can impose fines of up to £500,000 if you send unwanted email marketing messages, so it really does make sense to familiarise yourself with the finer details of the rules before you start a new campaign.”