When B2B data is personal data and what that means with the GDPR

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Data protection in the UK is changing thanks to the European General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR). Just like the Data Protection Act 1998 the GDPR deals with personal data, data relating to a living individual rather than a corporate entity.

The mere mention of “personal data” is usually enough for B2B’ers to think it therefore doesn’t apply to them. But, actually this isn’t strictly true and when it comes to digital marketing there’s also the privacy rules to think about (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations or PECR) which do apply to business data.

When business to business (B2B) data is personal data

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 data relating to sole traders or partners is considered as personal data, therefore if you process business data which relates to sole traders or partners then it must be treated as personal data and not business data.

However, an individuals business email address can also be considered personal data as it allows you to identify them from the email address (as opposed to a generic email address like sales@ accounts@ etc.). But, PECR allows you to market to these individual’s provided you offer an opt-out and the marketing relates to their role (see the ICO’s Direct Marketing Checklist). Generic business data can be used for marketing provided an opt-out is provided.


  • Sole traders and partners = treat as personal data
  • Personal business data (e.g. an individual’s email address) = personal data but you can market relevant services, but provide an opt-out
  • Generic business data = you can market, but provide an opt-out

So, what does GDPR change?

In a general sense, nothing – the same rules apply under GDPR because actually it’s the privacy regulations that control business data and electronic marketing.

However, remember one of the big changes coming with the GDPR are the changes to consent. Where data is collected that is consider “personal data” consent for processing “must be a freely given, specific, informed and [an] unambiguous indication of the individual’s wishes”. So, you need a positive opt-in to the processing of this data.

What does this mean for business data? For sole traders and partners you need the same positive and informed opt-in before you can process their data: remember their data is considered personal and not business data.

For all other types of business data nothing is changing – or is it?

The ePrivacy Directive

The Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations (PECR) are the UK’s implementation of the European “ePrivacy Directive”.

In January this year a proposal was adopted for a new “ePrivacy Regulation” which will replace the Directive. The intention is for this Regulation to be adopted in time for the 25th May 2018 GDPR implementation deadline although there’s some speculation that this timescale is achievable.

As to what might be changing when it comes to digital marketing using business data, it’s worth bearing this new Regulation in mind and keep up to date with its progress.


The GDPR doesn’t change any of the principles around processing business data, but it does change the consent mechanism for those pieces of business data that relates to sole traders and partners.

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