We All Need to Take Shared Responsibility

Where does the responsibility lie for customers’ privacy in terms of data used for marketing?

Protecting online privacy is a shared responsibility, and businesses, consumers, and government all have a part to play; however, businesses bear the largest responsibility to ensure the safe management of their customers’ personal information, particularly the marketing organization.

In the era of Big Data, businesses have unprecedented opportunities to increase customer engagement, as well as to share and analyze data in new ways. With real-time information—delivered at the precise moment of a customer’s online interaction—companies gain incredible insights that can be used to further their business goals and increase profitability.

Business responsibility

With the most to win and lose, businesses must embrace and shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for customer privacy. By taking responsibility themselves, businesses protect their biggest asset: their reputation. Building consumer confidence and increasing online interactions require trust—trust that’s gained through responsible behaviors toward customers. Without consumer trust, the brand suffers.

To build consumer trust in online privacy, businesses need to lead the charge by:

1. Delivering clear, accessible, and easy-to-understand privacy policies. As noted in the 2011 TRUSTe Privacy Index, the average privacy policy today is written six grade levels higher than the average U.S. reading level and is about twice as long as the Declaration of Independence.

2. Providing customers with notice and choice. The majority of consumers don’t want to be tracked without permission. Further, according to a 2012 survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of TRUSTe, 61% of consumers are inclined to do more business with a website that gives opt-out choices. If customers want to permanently opt-out, they should also have that choice.

3. Controlling third-party data access and usage. Companies have a responsibility to monitor third-party tracking on their websites, and if behavioral data is being collected for third-party purposes, businesses must obtain customer permission first.

Privacy best practices include all of the above, as well as clarifying what a business is doing with data and explaining to consumers the value in it for them. Most people know that they’re being tracked but don’t understand how or what information is being collected and used. Companies should also be up-front; letting consumers know that they don’t retain credit card data, for example. Highlighting industry-recognized privacy certifications is a further reassurance of good privacy practices.

Consumer responsibility

Because consumers do, in fact, frequently want immediate access to relevant advertising, news, and entertainment, they also have a responsibility for their own online safety. Education is the first step in protecting privacy. Consumers must educate themselves about their choices, as well as take responsibility for protecting their own digital footprint.

When consumers see something they don’t like, they also need to let companies know or not interact on the website. Just as you wouldn’t leave a car door unlocked with a wallet right on the seat, consumers must use common sense when sharing their own personal and private data online.

Most consumers appear to accept this responsibility. Our 2012 survey also found that 69% of consumers indicated that they trust themselves most to protect their personal information online. However, they still believe that retailers, website owners, publishers, ISPs, and browsers share the responsibility for safeguarding their personal information.

Government responsibility

Government must continue to provide support mechanisms for businesses to address compliance and for consumers to protect their online privacy. Regulatory requirements must also be balanced between the need to improve privacy practices and to support technology innovation.

Nowhere is the challenge greater today than in the mobile ecosystem. Although figures vary, reports show that mobile Internet usage is exploding with no sign of slowing down.

Businesses are aware of the market potential. According to Forrester Research, 43% of retailers identified mobile and tablets as a top priority this year and plan to invest in new or improved mobile apps or mobile-optimized sites. However, with 72% of smartphone users more concerned about privacy on their smartphone than one year ago, legislators are also taking note, and advocacy groups are investigating mobile privacy issues more closely than in any other online market.

Moving forward and looking at a future with nearly ubiquitous Internet usage, businesses, consumers, and government all face increasing challenges and responsibilities to protect privacy. With accountability and a demonstrated commitment to protect customers’ personal and private information, we can meet these challenges and pave the way for everyone to benefit from new and innovative technologies.


Dave Deasy, TRUSTe

As VP of marketing, Dave Deasy brings over 20 years of experience in e-commerce, software, and online media markets to TRUSTe. He has extensive experience building, launching, and growing businesses in consumer, small business, and enterprise markets. Prior to joining TRUSTe, Deasy was SVP of marketing and sales for the consumer software business at Phoenix Technologies. He also founded and sold his own e-commerce business, helped build and manage AOL’s small business service, built and launched HP’s consumer e-commerce business, and led an enterprise services marketing organization at HP. If he weren’t in marketing, Deasy would have parlayed his skills into medical research. “No matter how exciting the world of marketing is,” he says, “the impact is relatively small compared to the advancements taking place in the medical world.”

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