Protecting The Attendees Privacy is a Must

July 21, 2010

in Miscellaneous, Style

A brief reflection on privacy and conferences: attendees have to provide the event organizer with several personal/professional details during the registration process, which goes beyond the ticket sale. Think of the networking activities facilitated by the host (before, during and after), security controls (especially when high profile speakers or politicians are involved), the emailing of relevant program updates and newsletters (only opt-in please), event demographics, etc.

I just read the following tweet from my friend and Wired UK editor David Rowan:

I recognize in that tweet a frequent complaint that several event attendees have and I asked David for some more details on what happened. He answered:

More a reflection on how carefully I try to keep my personal email away from PR and marketing lists…
It was a conference mailout of an Excel spreadsheet of all attendees that included personal email addresses “so individuals can catch up with others from the day – please no spamming the list!”
I’m not suggesting that any on the list would spam, but I worry that these lists tend to get forwarded and put onto other databases…
Etiquette, I think, would suggest that conference organisers ask first before doing this, as I like to control my own privacy settings

Often though, sponsors of a conference request to receive -as part of the sponsorship agreement- a detailed database of the attendee. While it’s easy to add a cover-our-ass check-box on the registration form saying something like “the organizer or other third parties can send information relative to the event or other products/services… bla bla bla”, there are good and bad ways to implement this and the one mentioned by Rowan is a clear example of a bad way of doing so (that is, sending an excel sheet with all the contacts info without prior consent).

Always think first how would you feel if something similar happened to you. If you promise any kind of contact information to your sponsors, inform beforehand the attendees of this so that they can decide if they agree with it. If you never asked for specific consent, a politically correct way to proceed would be to email them once “on behalf of the sponsor” and clearly explain why they are receiving this email (“because you attended XYZ conference”) and how to op-out in order to avoid receiving further messages from this kind if so desired.

Trust is a very delicate gift that attendees will give you once, so you have to build your communications in order to protect that gift. If you betray them, they will go somewhere else, publicly complain and spit bad mojo on you.

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