Report: Online security increasingly important to consumers

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Public concerns about privacy and data security are becoming increasingly important factors in the decisions online consumers make, said Pete Pedersen, global chair of technology at Edelman. Companies should emphasize transparency regarding what happens with customer data and be upfront if a breach occurs, he said.

According to a survey released on March 7 and conducted between Feb. 1-7 by StrategyOne on behalf of Edelman, 21% of people said they have abstained from joining a rewards program for fear of what would happen with their personal information. The survey, which sampled 4,050 adult consumers from seven different countries, also found that 90% of respondents said they were concerned about data security, while 80% said they know more about online data security than they did five years ago.

One in 10 adults refuse to bank online for fear of a data breach, Pedersen said.

One of the most surprising discoveries, Pedersen said, was the distinct gap between what respondents expect companies to do and what companies actually do. Eighty-four percent of respondents, for example, said security was very important to them, while only 33% of those surveyed actually expected companies to secure their personal information.

“That's a 51% gap,” Pedersen said. “That's a big, big gap. We were very surprised by that.”

Companies that rely heavily on gathering data are already starting to react to these concerns, he said.

“Just look at what Google has been doing during the past year,” he said. Recently, Google has emphasized transparency in how they handle user information.

The extent to which consumers were willing to abandon companies they felt were irresponsible with their data also surprised Edleman's researchers, Pedersen said. Ultimately, companies must take action both before and after any security breaches, he added.

Fifty percent of respondents were inclined to switch their loyalty to a new company in the event of a security breach.

“[Consumers] want to know how [data is] being used today and how it's being used in the future.” he said. Transparency, both in data collection and its use, are key to building trust, he added.

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