The UK Data Reform Bill aims to scrap ‘red tape and pointless paperwork’ but what will it mean for online retail?

In the Queen’s Speech delivered on 10 May 2022, the UK government heralded its plans to introduce a new Data Reform Bill.

The announcement came in the wake of a previous government consultation entitled ‘Data: a new direction’ which proposed reforms to data protection law in the UK and was released last September.

The highly anticipated bill aims to move the UK away from the current “highly complex” European GDPR standard with its “red tape and pointless paperwork”. Implemented four years ago, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says it has held back businesses from using data “as dynamically as they could”.

In a statement announcing the bill, digital secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Today is an important step in cementing post-Brexit Britain’s position as a science and tech superpower.”

READ MORE: Over 80% of consumers worry about how their personal data is being used online

Dorries said the new Data Reform Bill would “make it easier for businesses and researchers to unlock the power of data to grow the economy and improve society” while still retaining the UK’s “global gold standard for data protection”.

“Outside of the EU we can ensure people can control their personal data, while preventing businesses, researchers and civil society from being held back by a lack of clarity and cumbersome EU legislation,” she said.

Making online retail simpler

The upcoming bill proposes to make online retail easier, with less checks and balances for those who host ecommerce websites. It also promises to mean fewer “check ticking” exercises for customers, such as accepting or declining cookies before browsing.

“These reforms are part of a journey whereby the UK government attempts to square the circle of enhanced privacy rights and less bureaucracy,” Seddons partner Alexander Egerton told Charged.

READ MORE: 70% of consumers consider data collection from businesses to be an ‘immoral’ practice

“This will be challenging as the EU may withdraw the adequacy decision granted to the UK last year,” he said.

“Some of these changes will, on closer examination, not represent any change – but others are sensible ideas which the European Data Protection Board may well eventually adopt.”

But will the new bill really make online retail a smoother, frictionless process for businesses and consumers alike? And what are the most important proposed changes?

Cookie alerts reform

One of the headline changes which is expected to be implemented when the Data Reform Bill comes into force will be banishing pop-up cookie alerts on websites and replacing them with an opt-out system.

Under the current system, consumers must give their consent for cookies to be collected by agreeing to cookie collection each time they visit a new site. This can make the online experience slow, irritating and repetitive.

However, the government is proposing an alternative ‘opt-out’ model. This broad brush approach to privacy will allow people to set their data preferences via their web browser, eliminating the need to agree to cookies each time.

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Supposedly, the aim of this change is to enable consumers to control their data preferences, but also provide a more seamless ecommerce experience, without excessive pop-ups.

TechUK chief executive Julian David is optimistic about the bill and believes it strikes a good balance between data protection and consumer experience.

“The reforms announced find a good balance between making the UK’s data protection system clearer, more flexible and more user-friendly to researchers, innovators and smaller companies,” he says.

“While at the same time maintaining levels of data protection in line with the highest global standards.”

However, there are some outstanding questions about how exactly these reforms will operate in practice. With the opt-out option, the government will have to collaborate closely with browser developers to ensure the system is effective and robust.

Removing the need for a data protection officer

Under the proposed new changes, smaller businesses no longer need to appoint a data protection officer (DPO), maintain records of data processing activities or undertake Data Protection Impact Assessments.

However, the government proposals say that despite this additional flexibility, businesses will still be required to maintain high data protection standards. Instead of a DPO, companies will have to appoint a senior member of staff, responsible for the privacy management programme.

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The government claims that removing these requirements will give businesses more flexibility. However, it remains unclear how an existing member of staff within an organisation is expected to have the time, experience or resources to undertake these data tasks.

More detailed information is clearly required in order to fully understand the proposition, but in lieu of a DPO, the government will have to explain how it plans to upload data privacy standards.

What’s next?

Admittedly, the Data Reform Bill is still in its infancy and the industry still has some way to go before the intended changes come into play. The bill will also be subject to intense parliamentary scrutiny, so it would be foolish to jump to any conclusions.

“The key takeaway is that compliance with certain aspects of the Data Reform Act may be little different to compliance with GDPR,” Alexander Egerton says.

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But even with that in mind, the proposed reforms appear to be targeted at genuine concerns rather than being a series of changes for the sake of it.

For online retailers, less stringent data protection laws offer many positives. With a smoother cookie system and no DPO, speed and performance can be optimised. For customers, the proposals could also create a smoother, less obstructed and hassle-free shopping experience.

However, concerns around data protection remain and many consumers – and businesses – will likely have further questions. The real test will be how the government answers them.

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