Contests, Giveaways, And Freebies – Make Sure Yours Are GDPR Compliant

Contests and giveaways are one of the ultimate methods authors use to build their email lists. The process is straightforward: provide people with the opportunity to win or receive for free something of value like a signed book, an iPad, or a dinner for two at that cool French restaurant your significant other owns. The only requirement to enter is a tiny piece of personal data – their email.

A fair exchange. Plain and simple. Until now.

Enter stage right — the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted by the European Union (EU), which took effect on May 25, 2018. If you are scratching your noodle over what the heck is the GDPR, check out my earlier blog post on the new EU law. In simplest terms, the GDPR is about digital privacy and rules for the collection, storage, usage, and transport of personal data from EU citizens.

I will not rehash the specifics of GDPR again here. For purposes of this article, all you need to know is that the GDPR requires businesses worldwide with an Internet presence to adhere to strict regulations if the business collects personal data from EU citizens. Businesses would include all non-EU based bloggers, writers, and authors with readers/subscribers from the EU, regardless of whether they are selling books, offering free services, or merely collecting personal data to build an email list. The goal of the GDPR is to make sure the collection of personal information is necessary and handled fairly. If you collect personal data of EU citizens like emails, you must adhere to the new stipulations in the GDPR.

Under the new EU law, consent to provide personal data must be freely given and not forced. Entering a contest by requiring an email is considered paying with personal data. No matter how you spin a contest as “free,” requiring someone to provide personal data to receive a service or product or win a prize is not actually free consent but forced consent.

How Does The GDPR Change Giveaways and Contests

You need the email to grow the list, right. But you need to be GDPR compliant. So what do you do?

In a word – transparency.

Follow these four tips to make your email sign-ups transparent as to how you intend to use the personal data collected, and your contests will be GDPR compliant.

  1. Be aware of the type of personal data collected, and document the collection. Any data that could lead back to the subscriber will require GDPR compliance. For example, names, emails, IP address, street addresses are all considered personal data that someone could easily use to locate the subscriber.
  2. Be clear to the subscriber why you are collecting personal data, what type of personal data you are collecting, and how the data will be used. For example, the email collected is in exchange for entry into the contest and will be used to send the subscriber newsletters and future promotions. Avoid misleading words like the contest is “free” or there is “no charge” to enter. As I noted earlier, providing personal data to receive something is not considered free under the GDPR.
  3. Get express consent from the subscriber to collect their personal data. For example, add a box that can be checked to give consent to the collection of a subscriber’s email and for you to send them newsletters and future promotions. Make sure the subscriber knows they have the right to cancel or remove their personal data from the email list at anytime. Silence or a pre-ticked box or pre-consent language in the terms and conditions cannot infer consent and will not be GDPR compliant. Consent must be a positive expression of choice that signifies an agreement.
  4. The subscriber should have the ability to enter the contest without consenting to the use of their personal data for anything other than the contest. You can offer an opt-in after they have entered their data for the contest, like an express consent to receive a newsletter from you. While this method is not as effective at growing an email list, it does give the person the option to avoid having their email data collected and used for anything but the contest.

Why Should The GDPR Apply To Contests

Prior to the GDPR, companies ran marketing based contests and giveaways to collect persona data, then used that data to send the subscriber promotional emails that they did not expect. Nothing was transparent. And for most consumers, that was frustrating.

Post-GDPR, consumers in the EU, and by extension other countries too, will know what they are consenting to when providing their personal data.

What Is The Penalty For Not Being GDPR Compliant

Failure to comply with GDPR regulations could mean hefty fines up to 20 million Euros or 4% of your global revenue whichever is higher. It remains to be seen how fines and regulations will be enforced for non-EU businesses.

What If You Have An Existing Email List

For those of you who currently have an email list, in order to be GDPR compliant you will need to audit those lists for EU based citizens, then obtain their consent to use their personal data. If consent is not granted, those emails must be deleted from the list.

Bottom Line

If you intend to build your email list by hosting a contest or giveaway that requires the subscriber to provide their email to enter, make sure you are transparent as to how the personal data will be collected and used. Subscribers must give express consent to the collection and use of their email for not only the contest but also any future marketing newsletters or other uses. Pre-ticked boxes or pre-consent language in the terms and conditions will not be GDPR compliant. Make sure the subscriber can cancel any future promotions or newsletter subscriptions or opt-out of the data collection process altogether but still enter the contest. Do not forget to ask those EU citizens already on your email list to opt-in to your use of their email for future promotions and newsletters.

And while you are creating your contest or giveaway, make sure you are legally compliant with the various federal and state laws that regulate giveaways. If not, you could be subjected to fines and criminal prosecution for running an illegal lottery.

How did giving something away get to be so difficult?


Photo Credit: Randy Heinitz | Visual HuntCC BY

Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.

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