Protection of personal data
European postal operators concerned about advertising mail
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Tuesday 26 February 2013
Although they may be less visible than web players or even SMEs, European postal operators also have concerns about the draft regulation on personal data protection being examined by the European Parliament.
Their problem is not one of having to request the consent of European citizens before using their data for commercial purposes, but of seeing limits on the prospecting techniques that can be used for direct marketing, ie advertising mail addressed personally to potential consumers.
“For the sake of technological neutrality, the same rules will apply to direct marketing and the internet,” explains Jean-Paul Forceville, head of PostEurop, the association that represents European public postal operators. “But these are very different industries and realities.” He adds: “We cannot reach millions of people with a single click. We send out mail that has a cost.”
The Commission’s initial draft had nevertheless reassured postal operators that exemptions for direct marketing would be maintained in EU legislation. Since the text has gone to the EP, however, they are concerned about a reorientation that seems to be advocated by rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens-EFA, Germany). His report will be put to the vote in the Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) in late April or May.
The postal operators look poorly on the amendments proposed in Albrecht’s draft report, which would prevent transfers of lists of customers to external companies and minimise data collection, whereas direct marketing uses profiling to target customers. The operators wish to retain the “balance of the 1995 directive,” the EU’s existing data protection legislation. This text enables them to prospect for new customers, who are entitled to oppose the use of their data for prospecting purposes.
If those amendments see the light of day, it will be a black day indeed for PostEurop, which predicts a negative impact on employment and on the public service mission of postal operators. The association’s worst-case scenario, where direct marketing would be treated in the same way as the internet – ie lose its opt-out – the French postal services forecast losses of €502 million in turnover from postage alone. In France, the direct marketing sector would lose €1.25 billion and 25,000 jobs in the mail division. “Some of the MEPs have understood that during a crisis you can’t pile it on,” said Forceville. But he himself admits that he was rather unconvincing in a recent meeting with Albrecht.
But PostEurop has not said its last word. With the sector’s support (FEDMA, FEPE and TWO SIDES), it intends to make more noise in EU circles to make its concerns known to elected representatives.