Technology can impact the way we work, play, communicate and live, and “big data” analysis – the processing of large amounts of data in order to gain actionable insights – has the ability to radically alter society by identifying patterns and traits that would otherwise go undiscovered. This data, however, can raise significant privacy concerns in the context of a merger or acquisition.
Dun and Bradstreet interviewed us regarding various Tips for Customer Data Management During a Merger or Acquisition. We thought the topic was so interesting, that we decided to expand a little bit more on the subject.
As background, it is important to consider that there are three types of M&A transactions affecting data: stock transactions, mergers, and sales of assets. In a stock transaction, there are no data issues, while the owners of a company sell stock to a new owner, the entity itself remains intact. This means business as usual from the entity’s standpoint, and there are no data or confidentiality issues.
By contrast, in a merger (where the target is not the surviving entity) or in an asset transaction, the original entity itself goes away, which means all of the assets in that entity have to be transferred, and there is a change of legal title to those assets (including to any data) which can have legal implications. For example, if a party consents to the use of their data by OldCo, and OldCo sells all of its assets to NewCo, does that party’s consent to use data also transfer to NewCo?
In a merger, data needs to be appropriately assigned and transferred, which often has privacy implications. Companies generally have privacy policies explaining how they collect and use consumers’ personal information. These policies often contain language stating that the company will not give such information to any third-party without the consumer’s consent. In such situations, the transfer of data must be done in accordance with the written commitments and representations made by that company (which may vary if different representations were made to different categories of individuals), and may require providing notice or obtaining consent from consumers (which, depending on the scope of the notice or consent required, can be an arduous task).
Companies also generally maintain employee data and client data in addition to consumer data. This information needs to be handled in accordance with contractual obligations, as well as legal obligations. National and foreign laws may also regulate the transfer of certain information. For example, in transborder transactions, or for transactions involving multinational companies, it is extremely important to ensure that any transfer of data complies with the data privacy and transborder transfer obligations applicable in all of the relevant jurisdictions.
Obligations may arise even during the contemplation of a merger, or during the due diligence process, where laws may impact the ability of companies to disclose certain information and documentation. For example, in the United States, financial companies are required to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which govern the controls required to protect certain types of data, and companies in the health care and medical fields are often required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
In the multinational / crossborder context, businesses may run into challenges posed by conflicting multi-jurisdictional data protection laws, which may prevent routine data flows (such as phone lists or other employee data) to countries that are deemed to have insufficient data protection laws, or require that centralized databases comply with the laws in multiple jurisdictions. Additionally, employee rights to access and amend data, as well as requirements to obtain consent before collection and limitations on maintenance of data may cause challenges as well.
So what should companies do when contemplating or navigating a merger or acquisition? First, companies should determine what information they have. Next, companies must ensure that they understand what information they have, including the circumstances under which the information was collected, and what rights and obligations they have relative to that information. Companies should determine what ability they have to transfer information, what consents or approvals are necessary to do so, and the potential impact of a transfer on the various stakeholders.
The bottom line? Any technology, and big data in particular, can be put to both good and bad uses. It is important that as companies gather data about individuals, that that information be used in accordance with existing laws and regulations governing data use, as well as in a way that respects the privacy of the individuals to which the data pertains.