After frankly discussing some misleading quotes from Consumer Advocacy I wanted to close out my notes on the recent Washington, D.C. FTC workshop I attended by looking towards the future. This is something I’m extremely passionate about, and one of the reasons I am honored to be a Board member of the exciting new LeadsCouncil (www.leadscouncil.com), whose goals are creating new strategies for upholding ethical values and compliance.
At the conference, protecting the consumer Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and distribution of that data was the subtext behind all of the panel discussions. Further, providing transparency on how many times the data will be distributed to the consumer through disclosures is key.
Proposed ways to further protect the consumer:
- Require all providers to meet Initial standards to deliver interested consumers to the client
- Set up disclaimers and privacy policies for the consumer to read and understand.
- Verification pop-ups
- Set up filters to eliminate non-qualified consumer or redirect them if not.
- Set up opportunities to not collect non-qualified leads.
- Set up better lead qualifiers as well as confirmations on submittals
- Verify data through a data clearing house to make sure information is accurate
- Auditing call centers
- Data gathering technology to go and find violators to protect the consumer
My overall impression of what’s to come from the FTC is that if you are…
an affiliate somewhere in the chain from generator to reseller, you may be under scrutiny going forward. Overselling your data or reselling your data after selling it to your “exclusive” advertiser will create enforcement liability. If you are one of those data vendors who acquires your data from resellers, retailers, corrupted IT staff, or in a way that is not directly licensed from the actual generator or their contractual agent/licensor, you have some serious challenges with your business model ahead. Transparency (by disclosure) for the consumer in terms of lead distribution and total times sold or called was the most obvious thing they will be seeking to enforce in my opinion. Vetting advertisers for legitimacy will also likely be the onus of the generator. Compliance inquiries may in the future for anyone who does not generate their own traffic or have solid provenance on the lead and controls over total distribution. The government as well as analytics companies are seeding forms and tracking total attempted contacts. Some leads have been contacted over 100 times. This is obviously not very pro-consumer and needs to be addressed. Overall the majority of marketing companies in our industry are ethical and seek compliance, however the industry’s soft underbelly is the legions of small resellers and “data slingers” who have no idea how their data was generated, how many times it was sold, or how many hands it passed through.
My conclusion is the ongoing effort by LeadsCouncil to self-regulate and create universal standards for our industry could not have had better timing. As an industry, it’s time to wake-up and get onboard the compliance train, vet or “out” the scammers and fraudsters, and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The FTC’s answer is to regulate every little aspect to protect the most ill-informed consumer. They fail to understand that the regulatory burden forces many compliance-minded companies out of business, and make it more likely a consumer will encounter a “bad actor” who by their very definition does not adhere to the regulatory standards and practices required of the “good actors” in our industry. Finding a reasonable balance must be communicated by the industry.