Perhaps you’ve seen them, those television and radio ads that talk about the “creepy” nature of some adverting on the Internet that follows consumers across their social media. According to Pew Research, most Americans believe their online activities are being tracked and monitored. 

The fact is, most companies can and do share data with social media platforms to ensure targeted advertising reaches receptive audiences. As more tools become available and the variety of data sources grows globally, platforms and advertisers are re-examining their rights and obligations when it comes to something as simple as matching customers’ email addresses with their Facebook accounts. 

Facebook’s Customer List Custom Audiences (“Custom Audiences”) tool is one such tool that has the potential to expand an advertiser’s liability for unauthorized use of customer data. For EU customers, a German Data Protection Authority ruling requires a individual’s explicit consent to such sharing.

The Facebook Custom Audiences tool enables advertisers to create targeted advertisements to Facebook users by combining Facebook data with the advertiser’s data such as email addresses and phone numbers. To use marketing tool the advertiser must comply with the consent and privacy expectations of individuals who have provided email addresses.

Consent to Use Email Addresses

While the use and disclosure of email addresses is regulated in some countries, the U.S. does not have a uniform data privacy protection scheme. U.S. privacy rights are protected through a patchwork of laws addressed to specific types of harm, such as unauthorized access and disclosure of financial (Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681) or healthcare-related (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) 42 U.S.C. § 1320d–2) data. While the CAN SPAM Act (15. U.S.C. § 7701 et seq.) specifically regulates email, the Act excludes communications based on a previously existing relationship. 

Importantly, for most purposes, permission of the e-mail recipient is not required. However, messages MUST contain a mechanism to request to opt-out of future email messages. If email addresses are acquired from third-party sources, such as marketing databases or social media, ensure users are given reasonable notice and choice about the use of such data.

The Federal Trade Commission endorses a market-style model of ensuring the fair use of information that allows individuals to participate in decisions on the disclosure and use of their personal information. As articulated by the FTC, the elements of this approach are notice, choice, access, security and enforcement.

Contractual Requirements of Facebook Custom Audiences 

In order to use the Custom Audiences tool, the advertiser must agree to additional terms and conditions. Facebook’s Custom Audiences terms require that the advertiser have both “all necessary rights and permissions” as well as a lawful basis to disclose and use the email addresses “in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and industry guidelines.” 

Recommendations

Review your Privacy Policy, Website Terms & Conditions, and membership/subscription applications to confirm the existence of a clear mechanism to opt-out of future email messages. If email addresses are acquired from third-party sources, such as marketing databases or social media, review data gathering practices, review scope of permissions granted to the sources of data and ensure users are given reasonable notice and choice about the use of such data.