Everything You Need on Data Retention in Salesforce Marketing Cloud

A data retention policy is a crucial step in managing your marketing cloud instance, it helps to optimize your instance, as well as helps to protect important data of an organization to avoid any criminal, civil, and financial penalties that sometimes be caused by bad data management practices. 

Over the last few years, the processing of data, especially personal data, has come under increasing scrutiny. With the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) the need for robust data management practices (covering areas like data retention) are becoming more and more important.

This article provides an overview of data retention practices in Salesforce Marketing Cloud and enables you to make better decision when it comes to storing data in SFMC.

A good starting point would be to understand what is a definition of a retention policy:

 “Data retention or records retention – is the practice of keeping records for set periods of time to comply with business needs, industry guidelines, and regulations. A strong data retention policy should detail how long data and records are kept and how to make exceptions to the schedule in the case of lawsuits or other disruptions”. (source: https://developer.salesforce.com/docs/atlas.en-us.noversion.mc-apis.meta/mc-apis/changing_the_retention_period_for_a_data_extension.htm )

How the data retention policy in SFMC can meet this retention policy definition requirements.

You should clearly define two key components of data retention policy. As per below:

Policy:  Your policy should detail who is responsible for each category of data, and if data that is no longer needed should be archived or delete. In case of Salesforce Marketing Cloud data retention is related to data stored in the data extension, so that’s where the policy will need to be implemented.

A diagram below depicts the typical data life cycle in SFMC

As shown above, It usually starts with data import and ends with data storage or data deletion, not many companies that are using marketing cloud have an archiving solution in place.

Some companies store their data in SFMC for many years using SFMC as their archiving solution. Some companies even create folders with the name Archive where data is stored from years ago.

So, when configuring a data extension, the retention date determines when data extensions are deleted. To make room for more data, you can change the retention date.

For example, if you currently keep your data for 30 days, you can change the retention period to seven days to clear the data more quickly.

Call the data extension by Nname or ObjectID.

From Contact Builder you can manage the following policy elements

Your first option is to select what data should be deleted:

Individual Records – With this setting, only specific records will be deleted. When each record reaches the end of the data retention period, it will be deleted. Records that have not yet reached the data retention period will remain.

All records and data extensions – With this setting, the entire data extension and all of its records will be deleted.

All records – With this setting, all the records inside a data extension will be deleted at the same time. The data extension itself with its fields and settings will remain.

Once configured, the policy should be implemented across all data extensions, or if there multiple types of Data extensions with different settings, then it should be clearly defined using naming convention or folder structure what policy is applicable to what data extensions.

Automatic Deletion of data and GDRP

As described above, Salesforce Marketing Cloud data retention policy allows effectively deleting some sensitive data after the retention period. It also allows saving space in SFMC, improving the overall performance, but it does not meet all GDPR requirements,

On May 25, 2018, a new privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect in the European Union (EU). GDPR expanded the privacy rights of EU individuals and placed new obligations on all organizations that market, track, or handle EU personal data.

Tracking data of customers deleted from the data extensions will still be available in the tracking data extracts. Some private data of customers deleted from data extensions will still be visible in All Contacts

Also, keep in mind that the DATA RETENTION feature is not available for synchronized data extensions.

To solve the privacy issue in SFMC a contact should be deleted from All Contacts.

By default Contact Delete feature is OFF and it needs to be activated if any contacts need to be deleted.

When a contact is deleted then his/her all data is removed from all data extensions and tracking data extracts.

It is a very powerful feature, but needs to be used wisely, since contact deletion can affect not only tracking data extract but all other applications including Einstein analytics.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

We are often being asked:

Q: how does the retention policy work on individual records, what happens if I update an existing record?

A: The retention is set when the record is added to the Data Extension. At that time, there is a timestamp created in the database, which is not visible in the application. That field stores the date that the record was added. It then uses that field to compare it to the retention, to determine whether the record needs to be removed.

Q: Does the retention period reset and does the retention period strictly apply to the date/time the row was created?

A: If a record is updated, it does not change that field’s date. So if you add a record, with 180 day retention, it will be removed once that time has elapsed regardless of if it has been updated or not.  RowBasedRetention cannot be updated.

According to Salesforce documentation:

You can update the data extension retention period that is specified in these properties:

  • DataRetentionPeriodLength
  • ResetRetentionPeriodOnImport
  • DeleteAtEndofRetentionPeriod
  • RetainUntil
  • DataRetentionPeriod

But you can’t update RowBasedRetention.

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