I was surprised to receive an email from the Covid Symptom Study offering silk face masks for sale. Even though the offer was obviously to support the research, my first thought was ‘oh no, they are going to get some bad publicity over this’.
Why? They did not have permission to market to me.
The study run by Zoe Global is working in collaboration with King’s College London researchers to track and report on Covid symptoms across the UK.
They were incredibly quick off the mark with an app in the early days of lockdown, which asked you to report how you were feeling and to indicate if you’d had a positive test.
I was impressed. They clearly explained why they needed our data and how it would be used. My colleagues and I have been duly reporting for months that we feel fine.
The problem with their email is I knew they had never asked for my permission to send marketing emails. Their newsletter sign-up specifically points to getting updates about their research but there was no marketing opt-in. And consent would have been needed for marketing.
It’s so easy to see how this happened. The team are so delighted they’ve got another avenue to raise much needed money, they don’t stop to think about whether they can actually send an email of this nature to those who are participating in their research.
I forgive them. It was a marketing email, they didn’t have my permission, it did break the rules, but they are trying to do incredibly valuable work at this extraordinary time. (And they did have an unsubscribe link!).
I forgave them even before their quick action to say sorry. Within two days I received an email with a personal apology from Professor Tim Spector, who heads up the research. I thought this struck absolutely the right tone.
However, there is a clear warning here. Be careful about your email marketing communications. Remember there are rules. Service messages are distinct from marketing ones. You can only send what you said you’d send. And in this context specific consent was required.
Also see: Understanding the email marketing rules
I feel we need to support the great work organisations like this are doing and help them, constructively, when they put a foot wrong.
Philippa Donn, October 2020
If you’d like to find out more about the research: Covid Symptom Study
The information provided and the opinions expressed in this document represent the views of the Data Protection Network. They do not constitute legal advice and cannot be construed as offering comprehensive guidance on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or other statutory measures referred to.