How Serious Are You in Protecting Your Customers’ Privacy?


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Consumer trust in businesses is at an all-time low, and this encompasses digital businesses, as well as other organizations and institutions. According to the recently-published annual Edelman Trust Barometer 2017, “trust is in crisis around the world.” And while the technology sector is still trusted by around 76 percent of the general population, “there is no room for complacency.”

In fact, Edelman says that the tech sector is displaying some warning signs that markets should not overlook. To start with:

    Trust factor in tech is flat, while trust in other sectors are rising;
    Tech companies fall short in terms of key trust-building behavior, such as transparency;
    Innovations, like internet-of-things, blockchain tech, driverless cars, and more, need more consumer trust before they get wider adoption.

The concern with the technology sector stems from the fact that any vulnerability or attack can have serious consequences both in terms of business cost and operations, as well as brand value. For instance, in the wake of a security attack, a business will usually spend on forensics and on increasing proactive protection. Likewise, there will be loss to reputation and diminished goodwill — all in all which could cost an average-size business around $4 million from a single attack.

What’s more worrisome is the Ponemon Institute’s finding that 54 percent of consumers cannot be prevented from discontinuing their relationship with a business that has experienced a security breach relating to customer data.

In gist, these underscore the importance of protecting one’s brand by ensuring your infrastructure can be trusted to fend against data breaches.

SSL and encryption — the case of security vs. convenience

Arguably, the first step to ensuring customer privacy and safeguarding their data is enforcing secure connections across your services, be they web, application, database connections, or otherwise. This mostly involves incorporating SSL/TLS — or secure sockets layer / transport layer security, — which encrypts internet traffic from point to point.

Simply called “SSL”, this protocol is also combined with regular web-based HTTP, in order to produce Secure HTTP — one of the minimum requirements of a secure web connection. It is also one of the factors that can help establish or improve trust between your digital assets (such as a website or web application) and your customer.

Research supports this. According to GlobalSign, 84 percent of website visitors will abandon a transaction or purchase if they know the data will be sent over an insecure connection. In addition, a study by Blue Fountain Media found a 42 percent increase in conversions when they added a trust seal — also known as an SSL badge — from VeriSign.

There’s no question that added security protection can help establish and improve trust among your customers. However, the brand impact of a secure connection can be watered down by the practical impact of degraded performance. Yes, because an SSL connection requires a “handshake” to initiate a secure connection between client and server, this results in some latency or delay, which can lead to slower website loading.

And haven’t we all read about the negative effects of a slow website in terms of keeping potential customers interested and loyal?

Thus, there is a need to balance the requirements of security with the benefits of a robust and fast website architecture. While it’s easy to say that you can simply forego one benefit in favor of another, it is possible to find a balance wherein SSL connections can still secure your web traffic while at the same time keeping it fast and responsive.

It is all about improving the SSL handshake. Several technologies can help here, which can significantly reduce the time it takes to establish that initial connection. These technologies will also be in place to reduce the number of handshakes required — which can be time consuming if a connection times out and requires a new SSL handshake every so often.

Sharing with a second party – what details to disclose

Another contention when it comes to data privacy is the fact that business share customer information and details with each other. “[Data sharing] requires one company to reveal its customer-level data to another and face privacy risks which may result in substantial losses in brand value, customer trust, and competitive advantage, or legal penalties from not conforming to regulations,” Schneider et al, in an article Protecting customer privacy when marketing with second-party data published on the International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Toward this end, the researchers have proposed “a decision-theoretic approach for use by companies to protect their customer segmentation data prior to entering into collaborative arrangements.” This means that businesses should be smart about which data to share with second parties whenever they are collaborating or sharing such information.

An added means of assuring customer trust when it comes to data sharing is becoming transparent about it. “Consumers are aware that they are under surveillance,” writes More et al, at HBR. The authors provide an interesting view about data sharing and transparency. They believe that businesses that offer full disclosure — even saying that you are watching your customers and gathering their data — end up becoming more trustworthy.

“Companies that are transparent about the information they gather, give customers control of their personal data, and offer fair value in return for it will be trusted and will earn ongoing and even expanded access,” the authors write on HBR. On the other hand, “[t]hose that conceal how they use personal data and fail to provide value for it stand to lose customers’ goodwill—and their business.“

Therefore, even if you are serious about ensuring data privacy for your customers, what’s important to note is that it is already understood that you collect user data. What matters is that you give assurance that you are sharing it responsibly and with the right business partners.

Conclusion – it is still all about trust

Hacking, phishing, data leaks, selling data to third parties — these are valid customer concerns that can make or break their trust in a business. What matters in establishing trust is this: becoming transparent about your data dealings, and achieving balance in the way you secure transactions. The aim here is to ensure customer satisfaction delight, without jeopardizing their security and privacy.


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