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Who gets my information when I register at an event?

by Adrian Segar

Recently, I was browsing the website of a conference at which I’m presenting and saw a link to a list of registrants. One click later, I possessed a nice Excel spreadsheet containing the names, companies, and “badge type” for the seven hundred attendees. Hmmm. At the bottom of the spreadsheet, I noticed a second tab: “Sheet1″. Clicking on that showed a smaller list of a hotel chain’s participants that included emails. Yikes!

This got me thinking about who gets our conference information when we register. Personally, my contact information is scattered all over the internet; it would be hard not to find my email, office phone, and mailing address with a quick search. But I doubt that many conference attendees share my promiscuous nature.

I suspect that many conference participants don’t want their information freely handed out to all and sundry. Practitioners of a conference topic or field usually don’t want to be bombarded with emails and calls from suppliers of products and services relevant to their profession (and even less, communications from vendors in whom they have no interest). But most of us have seen this happen more than we’d like.

Yet there is seldom a clear explanation when we register for an event as to how the information we are required to give to register may be used by the conference organizers, sponsors, trade show participants, app developers, etc. What might these parties do with it? If they are contracted by the organizers, are there any restraints on what can be shared or sold to third parties?

As a conference facilitator, I’ve always been given access to attendee registrations. But I’ve never been asked to sign an NDA for the information I’m privy to.

These days, when a registration list can be converted in a few minutes into data for a bulk email, mail, or phone campaign, we need to start thinking about these questions and coming up with some answers. Event organizers and planners need to take responsibility for the data they obtain, and clearly communicate when asking for it how it may be used.

Otherwise, attendees may start registering using this. And that would be a shame.

Does it bother you that you don’t know how your registration information will be used? What are you doing at your events so that attendees know who will have access to their information?

Photo attribution: Flickr user valpearl

  • Alissa Hurley Benavidez

    Great topic, Adrian! I’m often surprised how little importance is placed on data privacy both on attendee data and even sourcing data. Ask the questions and you may be surprised to find that the information is being used by the third parties and even sold on to other parties. It pays to ask the question – are you the customer or the product?

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      Alissa, your last question is becoming a mantra in the information age!

  • http://newrules.com John Federico

    We deal with this issue all the time at Qrious.

    While we lock down attendee data and only use it for its intended purpose, we have been asked to sign Data Privacy documents by some of our conference partners. (Which we happily do, unless they’re particularly onerous due to some odd clauses.)

    Still, other conference organizers *never even ask us* what we do with the data. Many times, *we’re* the only voice in the room that approaches this topic.

    I think it becomes “yet one more thing” for the organizer to worry about and unless they have a specific requirement to deal with data privacy, they simply don’t bother opening that can of worms.

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      Glad to see, John, that at least one company is aware of this issue and doing the right thing. I agree that many organizers aren’t thinking about this issue, perhaps because they aren’t the ones that will be immediately upset if attendee data is subsequently shared inappropriately.

  • http://www.lenos.com/ Debbie Chong, Esq.

    When selecting a meeting/event software solution, consider
    “privacy by design” as a key feature and value proposition. Protecting
    clients’ data is simply a business model decision. Therefore, we suggest
    folks consider two primary issues:

    If your software vendor automatically generates a link at the bottom of a
    page with their privacy statement and their logo, then it is highly likely
    they will be mining your data to grow their business. Is it a
    “free consumer” app or a legitimate business solution?

    If the venue sourcing tool is advertising subsidized, then it is likely the
    system is designed to advantage the advertisers, not the group booking the
    venue. We have demonstrated that an advertising based system can cost more
    than 50%+ more.

    At Lenos Software, we practice “Privacy by Design” as our business model for proper data governance. With the growing awareness about the importance of protecting client data, we believe that our advocacy (since our founding in 1999) will eventually become the norm and not the exception. The business of protecting client’s data is worth Lenos forgoing hundreds of millions of advertising dollars. This is an issue
    that has been buried for far too long in our industry.

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      Interesting. I hadn’t heard of your company before (hadn’t made the connection with Alissa Hurley). Thanks for sharing your perspective, which makes sense to me.

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