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Little boxes: the issue of consent

Consent has become murky. No longer is it cut and dry. Just like big data, consent is easy to weaponise. Apply assumption, mix with manipulation and the outcome can be explosive.  

Which is why when consent is muddied, and calls are loud, leadership needs to listen. Privacy breaches occur when data is accessed for unrelated purposes and in these situations it is essential that individuals are approached without resort to force or an ultimatum.

Believing your customers or employees have given consent to, for example, receiving screeds of marketing ‘gumf ’is quite different to knowing they want to receive it.

Which highlights the real issue – consent is never there for the taking.

In this context, external reporting agencies deliver value. If customers haven’t given consent and their data is being processed illegitimately, they will want something to be done to stop it.

If a company makes it difficult for them to communicate their concerns – reputational damage may follow.

Bullying also relies on a mere flicker of consent: ‘they never complained,’ is the catchcry, so being routinely humiliated must have been okay.

In most cases, concern about the level to which consent has or hasn’t been granted simply festers. But when a customer decides to speak up they want to be heard.

Anything other than immediate gratification won’t do.

Outsourcing this function to a professional company will ensure that customers are heard in a timely fashion and infringements, especially those involving consent, can be resolved without escalation to regulators or the media.

Clearly, a benefit when consent brings a multitude of regulatory and criminal implications.

Speak up programmes, once developed and applied beyond the purview of employees and suppliers, offer a means to intervene and put things right. A professional speak up agency, such as NZ-based  Report it Now® offers a range of speak up channels that feature real people in real time. Importantly the professionally trained team know when to escalate to the right level within the company and within a critical timeframe.

The strict rules and expectations around consent have found companies across New Zealand and further afield needing to up their game. Within the last decade, Air New Zealand, for example, had to withdraw its opt-out for travel insurance on booked domestic flights. This fell foul of the view that pre-ticked boxes did not align with the principles of transparency, disclosure or informed consent.

So when a customer identifies a regulatory breach involving consent and wants to inform the requisite company of their observation or concern, the advice is: make it easy.

The trend to only permit access or contact through a series of pre-determined little message boxes with pre-determined word counts on the company website is a clear indication that the company concerned is disingenuous. It neither has the time nor the interest in listening and believes it already knows everything.

Little boxes, rather than real people, present as a barrier. When a company or business limits and narrows the channels to communicate, the opportunity to speak up is compromised.

Many of the subsequent computer-generated responses are similarly problematic.

To illustrate the point – there is XCover. XCover handles insurance protection and is the partner to Motatapu, an off-road sporting event held annually in Queenstown and Wanaka.

Attempts to activate the cover, once paid, elicited a screen pop-up requiring consent to access personal data for reasons outside of the policy.

Trying to unravel this and register concern was headache-worthy. There was the expected: ‘thank you for contacting us’,

Followed by the unimpressive: ‘Your enquiry was automatically forwarded to the correct team’.

And, as XCover congratulated themselves – reminders were tumbling– to activate  XCover…an instruction made impossible by the issue with consent.

Had this been UK, the series of emails and popups would have breached the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations that require consent to use personal data to be freely given, informed and unambiguous.

The outcome? Thanks to Motatapu Events team who had a direct route to XCover, an incorrectly rolled out update was uncovered that had caused consent settings to only allow customers to accept.

XCover were thankful, grateful even, that the error was uncovered and rectified.

However, the means to access XCover should have been easier and would have been, had the company appreciated the reality that human error, along with ethical lapses, needs ease of reporting.

And why the fuss over GDPR?

In an increasingly digital, social media and technological world, the way in which data controllers handle personal information of, for example, clients and customers, and the level of protection an individual may desire in terms of their personal data, now comes with enhanced accountability and rights. With the way in which data can be leveraged, Individuals no longer feel as safe as they might once have, and the risk of personal data falling into the wrong hands for the wrong reasons has intensified.

Worryingly too, companies are playing their part in enabling bad stuff to happen. A pattern is evident:

  1. Increasingly remote and anonymous means of dealing with customers and their concerns – enabling issues of consent to freewheel.
  1. Senior leadership teams in particular that have become insulated through delegated authority.
  1. Websites that are programmed with a ‘set and forget’ mentality, along with wildly erroneous answers (including ChatGPT or Chatbot) to queries.
  1. IT departments responsible for developing responses to imagined or data-based queries that have limited diversity or range of thought and considerations.
  1. Poor awareness of the benefit of an expanded speak up programme or the benefit of leveraging the strengths of an external reporting agency. 
  1. Inadequate appreciation of the impact disaffected or aggrieved customers can have on future business.

When issues of consent arise, especially when coupled with access to personal data for non-aligned purposes, expect pushback.

But also understand that a professional, external, ‘resolve it here and now’ approach is the ideal. When customer engagement is reinforced, business reputation remains intact and matters are swiftly sorted. The benefit of using an external agency is absolute.

It’s as simple as laying out the argument. And then, I consent.

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