"Updates to our privacy policy", "Stay connected", "Data law changes": You have probably had lots of these emails recently from various companies and organisations – but what's it all about?

It's to do with a huge shake-up of data protection laws, with a tougher European standard soon kicking in and companies worried about the potential for huge fines.

The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) means many groups who currently send you emails need to confirm you consent to them using your personal details.

For example, if you are still okay to receive marketing information and promotions.

It means consent can no longer be assumed. Pre-ticked boxes that you have to uncheck are now banned; as is hiding consent in the middle of long chunks of legal text.

Some companies who used these methods to 'sneak' you on their email lists are now scrambling to make sure you really want to hear from them.

Consent now needs to be "unambiguous and involve a clear affirmative action", according to the UK Information Commissioner's Office.

The new law – which comes in on 25 May – says the process for giving a company the okay to use your details must be in an "easily accessible form, using clear and plain language".

Image: Companies of all sizes have had to review their data protection measures

You must also be told exactly what your information will be used for – and it must be easy to opt out in future.

Businesses could be hit by huge fines – up to €20m (£17.6m) or 4% of annual turnover, whichever is higher – if they cannot prove that you explicitly agreed to them using your data.

For a mutinational firm it could run into hundreds of millions, for a smaller firm it could send them out of business.

You can see why many appear to be adopting a "just in case" approach and acting with an abundance of caution.

Some companies already meet the tougher rules, so you won't hear from them.

Others though, who may have automatically opted you in, are getting back to you to double-check you are still okay with them using your information.

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Many of the emails will simply be clicking "OK" to stay on a company's marketing list or ticking a few boxes to confirm what you want them to send you.

So, if you want to keep getting "special offers" from that big online store, or from the restaurant you booked for Valentine's Day, you'll need to take action otherwise the emails will soon dry up.

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