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Just when you thought you had a handle on your organization’s compliance requirements, a new buzzword falls in your lap: universal consent management.  

Don’t worry; we’ll cover all the basics of universal consent management in this blog—what it is, why it matters, and how it works. Let’s dive in. 

What Is Universal Consent Management? 

If you’re familiar with cookie consent management, then universal consent management will sound pretty familiar. 

If you collect and/or process personal data, data privacy regulations require you to provide consumers with the opportunity to consent to that collection and/or processing or to withdraw consent. Different regulations may adhere to either an opt-in standard of consent (i.e., no collection or processing until the consumer agrees to it) or an opt-out standard (i.e., collection and processing can proceed, but the consumer must be informed and given the opportunity to withdraw). 

Cookies are one of the more common ways businesses collect personal data, and most website users will be familiar with cookie consent banners. These:  

  • Convey to users that the website uses cookies. 
  • May include buttons for consenting to the use of cookies, withdrawing consent to the use of cookies, or customizing which categories of cookies to consent to. 

Cookies may be one of the most visible and common means of collecting personal data, but they’re not the only means. 

There are many other channels, platforms, and technologies that collect and process personal data, and businesses need to meet many of the same requirements for these alternative data collection methods as they do for cookie consent. That is, they need to inform consumers about the use of these data trackers and give them a means of opting into or out of data collection and processing. 

Furthermore, businesses also need to collect consent to achieve outcomes outside of data privacy compliance. That could consist of complying with telecommunications regulations or facilitating legal agreements, like terms of service. 

Universal consent management is the facilitation, recording, and operationalization of this spectrum of consent. 

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of example consents you might manage under universal consent: 

  • Cookie consent. 
  • Non-cookie-based targeted advertising. 
  • Internet of Things (IoT) device data collection consent. 
  • Consent to be texted, called, emailed, or otherwise communicated with. 
  • Consent to terms of service or other legally binding documents. 
  • Opting into or out of the use of sensitive data, such as through the CPRA’s “Limit the Use of My Sensitive Information” link. 

Is Universal Consent Management the Same as Preference Management? 

Universal consent management and preference management are related, but distinct, concepts. 

Preference management is included within universal consent management and—as the name suggests—deals with consumer preferences. Most commonly, it refers to managing communication preferences, such as permitting the business to contact you through email, text, and so on.

What Are the Benefits of Universal Consent Management? 

So, why is it necessary to manage consent across all these different channels and platforms? 

1. Compliance 

When it comes to data privacy, the need for cookie consent is clear—if you’re collecting and processing personal information, laws like the GDPR and CPRA require consent. Universal consent management helps businesses comply with laws beyond just data privacy, however; an example would be the U.S.’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which requires businesses to inform consumers and secure consent before communicating via text messages.  

2. Reduce Legal Risk 

Universal consent management also helps you secure consent for legal agreements. For instance, it isn’t a regulatory requirement to include terms of service on your website—but having your consumers agree to your terms of service provides a degree of legal protection, helps set expectations with potential customers, and cuts down on abuse. Without some means of consent management, it would be challenging to know who has agreed to your terms of service and who hasn’t (and therefore should not be allowed access to your services). 

3. Centralization and Auditability 

Technically speaking, you can manage consent for all these different use cases individually without engaging in universal consent management, per se.  

What makes universal consent management universal is that it centralizes all of these different consent mechanisms and gives you one single location to view consents across channels and platforms, significantly improving auditability and operations. 

Universal consent management solutions serve as the central location for operationalizing, storing, and viewing these consents across the full spectrum of consent collection points in your customer-facing systems. 

How Do Universal Consent Management Solutions Work? 

There’s a wide diversity of consent collection points that could conceivably exist within an organization. How can one solution tie into all these different forms, mobile apps, phone calls, emails, and other channels? 

One approach commonly found in universal consent management solutions is to provide code that can be copied and pasted onto your webpage and to integrate into popular software solutions. Then, when a user consents or withdraws consent, it’s recorded in the universal consent management solution, which can then be audited, reported on, or integrated with for further automation.  

Importantly, this can include a variety of consent types—consent to data collection, withdrawing consent for the share or sale of data, consent for secondary uses of data, consent to be contacted by different channels, and more. 

Beyond Compliance 

Data privacy regulations are a big part of the reason why businesses are paying more and more attention to things like cookie consent, preference management, and universal consent management. But it’s also part of a larger paradigm shift—consumers are tired of being left in the dark by the businesses who are ostensibly there to provide needed products and services.  

Business leaders are responding; the idea that consumer data can be collected en masse and used without concern for the consumer’s wants is quickly going out of vogue. The businesses that demonstrate they care about consumer rights are increasingly winning consumer trust (who would have thought?). 

Thus, universal consent management achieves three key outcomes for businesses: compliance with data privacy and other regulations, legal protection against misuse and abuse of services, and a demonstrable concern for consumers as people with rights and preferences. 

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