Data privacy has emerged as a major concern, reveals a new study from Internet privacy specialists at TRUSTe and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).
Released in time for Data Privacy Day (Jan. 28), the TRUSTe/NCSA U.S. Consumer Privacy Index found that more Americans worry about not knowing how their personal information collected online is being used (68 percent) compared to losing their main source of income (57 percent). In effect, people are more concerned about their data privacy than keeping their jobs, according to the survey of 1,000 U.S. Internet users, conducted by Ipsos, a global market research company.
And that concern has a big effect on consumer behavior. Seventy-four percent of respondents said they had limited their online activity in the last year in order to preserve their privacy. Fifty-one percent said they had refrained from clicking an online ad, and 28 percent admitted to stopping an online transaction.
It's only natural for people to be a little uneasy, said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). Data security and privacy haven't caught up with the Internet's rapid growth.
"There's lack of maturation in the way businesses and consumers understand the ecosystem and the role of each," he told Small Business Computing. "There is a rush to bring innovations into the marketplace and security is an afterthought." Internet consumers, meanwhile, are largely in the dark about "the value of their own personal information and what it means to give away."
How Small Businesses Can Protect Customer Privacy
Consumers are obviously concerned and seek clarity. Small businesses can provide it and win over customers. Here are the NCSA's tips for becoming a trustworthy steward of personal information and for promoting a privacy culture.
Small Business Data Privacy: If You Collect It, Protect It
Simply put, people expect companies to protect their personal information. Live up to those expectations by implementing technologies and policies that prevent inappropriate and unauthorized access to sensitive information.
"Eighty-nine percent of consumers avoid companies that don't protect their private information," warned Kaiser. That's a huge number of people to alienate.
While keeping up with the latest data security threats can seem overwhelming, Kaiser suggests that businesses start by "understanding what their most important digital assets are." Once they identify "those crown jewels of their business," everything falls into place. "Start with the most valuable data that you have and build out security from there," he advised.
And finally, customers don't like rude shocks. "Don't use data in unexpected ways," Kaiser said. If a customer supplies information for the purposes a service call, refrain from flooding her inbox with promotional emails without consent, or worse, sharing her data with third parties. There's no faster way to sow distrust in your company than by recklessly attempting to capitalize on customer information.
If data privacy is a priority, let your customers know.
Tell your customers how you collect, use, and share their information. Educate them about the steps your business takes to maintain privacy and how seriously you take the responsibility of handling their personal information.
Not only does it help set your customers' minds at ease, but you're also doing your part to help improve the online industry at large. "Forty-four percent of consumers believe that privacy improves with greater consumer awareness," said Kaiser.
Create a Culture of Data Privacy
Oddly, many companies consider data privacy and security an IT problem. In fact, it's every worker's responsibility, asserted Kaiser.
Businesses strive hard to build cultures around safety and accountability. They'll conduct fire drills and implement procedures for dealing with emergencies, dangerous working conditions, harassment, and other occurrences that place businesses at risk.
Data privacy deserves the same consideration.
"Expect employees to respect [personal] information," Kaiser advised. Prioritize protecting consumers, and educate workers about their roles in safeguarding that data. And it's not just customer information that needs protecting, warns Kaiser.
"Employee data is a huge target," he said. "Employees can become victims of identity theft," their credential data used to access confidential data or to scam colleagues, business partners, and clients.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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