In order to safeguard the sensitive and personal information of individuals, countries have become increasingly strict with how businesses use citizen data. This is to prevent spam and fraudulent activities that could potentially harm regular citizens who use any kind of service or business, in case the privacy of the business is compromised.
One such essential measure for protecting data is the GDPR, which aims to return control over personal data to citizens and simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying regulations within the EU.
The GDPR applies to all businesses that process the personal data of individuals in the EU, regardless of where the business is located. This includes businesses that send marketing emails to individuals in the EU.
If you are a business or marketer that falls under the criteria mentioned above, this checklist is for you. Complying with this GDPR Email Marketing Checklist will not only keep you out of trouble but will also help you establish better relationships with your users and subscribers.
Before starting let’s take a quick look at what GDPR is..
What is GDPR?
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA).
It took the internet by storm in 2018 and applies not only to businesses within the European Union but also to those outside the EU that handle EU citizens' data. It's like a digital guardian that ensures businesses handle personal data responsibly, transparently, and securely.
Being GDPR compliant shows your users that you are serious about their data safety and helps build global credibility.
Impact of GDPR on Email Marketing
The GDPR has brought about significant changes to email marketing, including stricter rules for obtaining consent, expanded data subject rights, and stronger enforcement mechanisms.
Marketers are now required to obtain explicit consent from their subscribers and provide clear and transparent privacy policies. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines and a damaged reputation.
To adapt to these changes, marketers must prioritize maintaining clean data, implementing robust consent management systems, and regularly auditing their email marketing practices. As a marketer or business catering to the email marketing industry, it's important to follow these best practices to ensure compliance with GDPR.
11-Step GDPR Email Marketing Checklist
1. Understand the data you collect
You should know from where and what data is flowing in, where is it stored, and who has access to it.
Determine the types of personal data you possess and whether this data comprises sensitive personal information to maintain its confidentiality and security. Also, consider whether your website collects personal information from minors, and how consent for processing this personal data has been obtained and retained.
In case the data is coming from or shared with a third party, you also need to consider whether these third-party entities are based outside the EEA. If so, what measures they have implemented to protect your personal data from being accessed by foreign entities or used for purposes other than those permitted under the contract with the third party?
2. Control the data flow and processing
Data processing and how the data is being used has become a complicated area for businesses, often leading to uncertain and unregulated practices.
In some cases, marketers may display data privacy and usage terms merely as a formality, without having full control over the data being used. To avoid this, ensure all the data has been collected legally, is going to a safe place, and is put to the right use.
Maintain a record of all the devices linked to your network and their involvement in handling personal data. Refrain from retaining sensitive data that is not necessary, and keep an up-to-date record of how your business manages personal data.
3. Use two-factor authentication
To make sure that everyone who signs up for your email list has given their permission, you should use a double-check system.
This means that when someone signs up, they have to confirm twice that they want to be on the list. The first time is when they fill out the form, and the second time is when they click a link in an email that they get after filling out the form.
Even though it is not required by the GDPR, it's a good idea to do it anyway. By using this system, you can be sure that people want to give you their information, which shows that you care about following the rules for keeping people's data safe.
4. Prioritize website security
Website security is something that you cannot afford to ignore. As a website owner, you must ensure your website is secure.
This means that the data stored on the website needs to be protected and that the website itself needs to be protected from outside attacks. Websites are regularly attacked by hackers and other people with malicious intent.
Here are a few security measures to consider-
Get an HTTPS website URL by installing an SSL certificate that will encrypt any information sharing between the site and server.
Use strong, unique passwords for all accounts and consider using a password manager.
Use a CDN provider that can improve security, e.g, by protecting websites against DDoS.
Use a web application firewall (WAF) to protect against common web attacks. Add extra layers of protection to your server for payment pages.
Implement encryption for sensitive data, such as passwords and credit card information.
Regularly back up your website and data to prevent data loss in the event of a security breach or technical issue.
5. Be clear about your motive
Your customers need to be aware of all the data you’re collecting about them. Clandestine data collection will only lead to a hefty non-compliance fine.
Data collection acknowledgment must be clearly displayed at every data collection point - before any data is collected. For example, when you are collecting data on your signup forms, lead magnet forms, etc, let them know how their data is going to be used.
If you are going to send emails, make it clear and simple. Get their consent by providing them the option to receive or not to receive communication from your business. And pre-ticked boxes are a big no-no, as they can be misleading as well as non-GDPR compliant.
6. Add cookie collection notices/banners
According to the GDPR, cookies are classified as personal data collectors and must be regulated. If you use behavior or tracking cookies, you must offer visitors the option to accept, reject, or customize them.
By including a cookie banner on your website, you can help ensure GDPR compliance and give visitors control over their data. Before collecting or using any data, be sure to clearly explain how the cookie data will be used and obtain consent from the user.
7. Assess all third-party services and risks
GDPR outlines a unilateral approach to third-party risk mitigation, expecting entities to discover and mitigate information security risks both internally and throughout the third-party network.
Data controllers are responsible for implementing appropriate security measures. These security measures can be summarized in a compliance framework supported by four primary pillars — risk assessments, compliance evidence gathering, continuous monitoring, and audit trail capabilities.
What is appropriate is assessed in terms of a variety of factors including the sensitivity of the data, the risks to individuals associated with any security breach, the state of the art, the costs of implementation, and the nature of the processing.
It is important to note that even if your email marketing is handled by a third-party email marketing service, you’re still the owner of the data. As such, the responsibility for legal compliance for managing that user data is on you. So, make sure you assess all third parties well before taking any action.
8. Update and clean your mailing list regularly
GDPR requires you to retain only necessary and up-to-date data.
You should be removing unsubscribed contacts, invalid email addresses, and personal data of individuals who have exercised their right to be forgotten to maintain an accurate and relevant list of subscribers.
With regular email list cleaning, you ensure that you are not sending emails to individuals who have chosen to unsubscribe from your communications. This respects their preferences and helps build trust with your subscribers.
Additionally, removing invalid email addresses helps improve your sender reputation, and email deliverability rates, ensuring that your messages reach the intended recipients.
As per GDPR guidelines, consumers have the right to reclaim ownership of their data and opt out of marketing communications. Thus, if an existing customer or subscriber, who earlier opted to receive communication wishes to opt out, you should provide a clear option to unsubscribe.
When someone clicks on the unsubscribe link, ensure that they are removed from your email list and all data stored about them for marketing purposes is deleted.
You can also offer subscribers the option to customize their email subscriptions, enabling them to stop receiving specific types of emails.
For example, they can choose to receive updates solely about new product launches or updates and decide how frequently they want to receive emails. This way, subscribers have better control over the communications they receive from businesses.
10. Use a reputable & GDPR-compliant ESP
Under GDPR being compliant means that you need to have a GDPR-compliant email service provider(ESP) and you need to be fully prepared or you both will be at risk of fines. So, you need to be sure that your ESP is following all the legal requirements.
Here are some questions you should ask your ESP before starting:
How recipients can be removed from contact lists and databases?
What right of access to data subjects have to retrieve their data?
What are the rights to rectify, change, or update personal data?
What is the controller's responsibility and is the data processed as per GDPR?
What measures do they take to protect minor’s personal data?
What if the data isn’t provided directly by the subject?
Evaluate the responses, go through their policies, and only then decide whether to go with those ESPs or not. When you pick a reliable ESP that abides by GDPR, it is going to make it a lot easier for you to fulfill all the GDPR compliance requirements for Email Marketing.
It should also include information on data subject rights, data sharing and transfer, and any relevant data breach notifications.
Staying GDPR Compliant For Email Marketing
As a marketer, the GDPR can be a valuable tool to enhance the quality of contact/email lists, optimize marketing strategies, and generate higher-quality data for more personalized and targeted campaigns.
It provides an opportunity to review our existing processes and make improvements where necessary, ensuring that we are complying with all relevant regulations and providing a better overall experience for our audience. Hence, with GDPR, we can build stronger, more effective marketing campaigns that drive better results for our business.
You can make your email GDPR-compliant by using a reliable email service provider, including email disclaimers, providing relevant information, and following the above GDPR compliance checklist for email marketing.
A good email marketing service provider ensures GDPR compliance by implementing measures such as obtaining explicit consent from subscribers, providing clear and transparent privacy policies, and offering easy ways for subscribers to opt-out or delete their data.
Buying contact lists under GDPR is not illegal if they are coming from reliable sources with consent. However, it is highly not recommended to buy contact lists as it can have a negative impact on your campaign performance.
Under GDPR, individuals have the right to request that their personal data be deleted, also known as the "right to be forgotten." This right applies to email marketing if the individual's data was collected and processed without their consent, or if they withdraw their consent.
Acknowledge the email and express concern for the affected individuals within 72 hours. Ask for more information and details on how to proceed. If you are unsure of the next steps, consider reaching out to your organization's IT or legal department for guidance.
Penalties for non-compliance with GDPR can be fines of up to €20 million or 4% of the business’s global annual turnover, whichever is greater. The penalty will depend on the severity of the violation and the organization's level of cooperation in rectifying it.