Q&As

If a business keeps a ‘black book’ of contacts, but keeps it private and does not keep an electronic version, does the Data Protection Act apply to its contents? Can the business send emails to those contacts without the opt out of receiving more emails that usually accompanies marketing shots?

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Published on LexisPSL on 02/10/2014

The following Information Law Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • If a business keeps a ‘black book’ of contacts, but keeps it private and does not keep an electronic version, does the Data Protection Act apply to its contents? Can the business send emails to those contacts without the opt out of receiving more emails that usually accompanies marketing shots?
  • Luxury goods retail and 'black books'
  • When will the Data Protection Act 1998 apply?
  • Emailing marketing communications to contacts from the ‘black book’

Luxury goods retail and 'black books'

It is a common practice for luxury goods retailers to hold records of specific information about particular customers—the so-called little 'black book'.

'Black books' can be valuable resources for retailers servicing their big spending clientele to able to look up individual customers' purchasing histories and preferences and other useful information about them. Such customers also demand a high level of discretion and retailers are expected, both by those customers and the law, to put in place appropriate safeguards to ensure that such information, often deeply personal, remains private and is handled properly.

Traditionally, these black books have been in hardcopy, although these days more are moving online. When multiple customers' data is aggregated in electronic form, this unleashes the potential for retailers to profile customers, mine the aggregated data for potential sales leads and to push targeted marketing to their 'most-valued customers', as well as a range of other activities.

This Q&A focuses on black books in hardcopy format and the associated data protection issues.

When will the Data Protection Act 1998 apply?

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA 1998) will only apply to that information which is ‘personal data’. Section 1(1) of DPA 1998 defines ‘data’ as:

'information which:

(a) is being processed by means of equipment operating automatically in response to instructions given for that purpose,

(b) is recorded with the intention that it

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