In the past few years, the concern for online privacy has risen globally. It has been at the forefront of political and social conversations but is still not a priority for many online businesses, which have a tendency to view it as an afterthought. As more products and services have moved into the digital world, so has more of our personal information. Unfortunately, a clear path has yet to be laid out on how this data should be collected, stored, and used in a way that protects consumers’ privacy. Companies recognized the power of user data decades ago and have been capitalizing on it ever since – using it for everything from personalization to targeted ads to improving user experience and product features. Many of the privacy and security issues that are rearing their heads today have come as a result of these companies taking full advantage of user data without weighing the costs. In other words, privacy has been an afterthought.
Why Privacy Matters
Privacy has become increasingly important to consumers. In the face of seemingly endless data leaks and breaches, trust and transparency have become a critical part of building customer relationships. Deloitte’s 2019 US Consumer and Retail Executive Privacy Survey showed that almost three quarters (73%) of consumers are more likely to be open to or neutral about sharing data if they are satisfied with privacy policies explaining how data is used.
There’s no question that consumers also play a role in the protection of their own privacy. There is an undeniable paradox between users’ concerns and behaviors. A report by SmarterHQ supports this well, finding that 72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that are personalized and tailored to their interests, yet 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy. The personalization that consumers want requires a certain level of personal data to be used. So, how can businesses balance the scales?
Making Privacy a Priority
Having a privacy strategy in place can help guide companies in their decisions and ensure that privacy is being taken into consideration from the beginning. The earlier in the business this strategy is created, the better. This creates a model for the entire business, including marketing, finance, IT, and all other departments. Building a privacy strategy can’t just be about saying the right things, it must be about doing the right things. To build consumer trust, you have to be able to back up the messages you convey.
An easy way to start thinking about your data privacy strategy is to break it down into three sections – collecting, storing, and sharing.
- Data collection – Be intentional about data and don’t collect unnecessary information. Because data can be useful, many companies collect as much as they possibly can. This only increases the amount of data at risk of leaks and breaches.
- Data storage – Determine how data will be stored and monitored. It is crucial to know where data is stored, who is responsible for the data, and when a situation requires further investigation. Many companies have information spread across a long list of platforms. In this case, it can be difficult to ensure privacy practices are being implemented consistently, making it easy for things to go unnoticed if you aren’t careful. Another consideration in this section is data retention, or long you are storing data. If you are storing data that is no longer needed, get rid of it.
- Data sharing – Just because consumers are okay sharing their data with you, doesn’t mean they’re okay sharing it with other companies you may have relationships with. Be clear about how you will use and share user data. Play it safe and only share data when it is absolutely necessary.
There is a common theme throughout every successful privacy strategy: transparency. This goes beyond privacy policies, which are often full of legal jargon and difficult for consumers to understand. Businesses must clearly communicate their privacy practices and customer’s rights to build the trust they not only want but need.