As digital technologies become more advanced, companies are eagerly gathering information about their customers’ online and offline behavior and leveraging that information for a competitive advantage. Today’s companies can analyze, correlate and cross-reference everything from data gathered from fitness trackers and connected home entertainment systems, to shopping histories and chat logs.

However, data security is a growing concern, and consumers are becoming increasingly wary over what types of information are being gathered and retained by whom. Most of us know that just by being online, we’re giving up a measure of privacy. Even so, most customers are surprisingly unaware of just how much of their information is being gathered. Consider this:

  • 86% of people don’t know that their browsing history is accessible.
  • 82% of people don’t know that their communication history can be traced.
  • 75% of people are unaware that their geographic location is accessible.
  • 73% of people are unaware that their social media Friends lists are accessible

While most customers appreciate the convenience and benefits that data sharing can bring, many still find it unnerving how little privacy they actually have.

Top Three Consumer Privacy Concerns

Selling Data to Third Parties
Among the most common customer concerns regarding online privacy is the selling of their data. Customers may allow your business to access their data because you’ve successfully built trust and have provided a clear benefit in exchange for their data. But they have no such relationship with a third party who is seeking that information for unknown purposes.

Identity Theft
In 2016, we saw 1,093 data breaches. According to a recent Data Breach and Customer Loyalty Report that was published by Gemalto, nearly 60 percent of customers are concerned that their privacy will be compromised by a data breach. Nearly 70 percent of those people stated that if a data breach should occur, they would no longer conduct business with that company.

For many customers, one of the biggest frustrations with online shopping is finding their inbox cluttered with sales alerts, coupons, advertisements, product suggestions, and more. While some of these emails may come from the site that was previously visited, many often come from businesses with which the customer has no prior relationship.

Three Ideas for You: Ensuring Customer Privacy

A few short years ago, no one worried about how accessible their personal information was. Beyond basic demographics, businesses just didn’t have the capability to gather much data. The information that they were able to gather posed virtually no risk, either as a liability for them or a potential danger to their customers.

Addressing your customers’ privacy concerns is essential to running a successful business; in fact, in recent years, many businesses have faced financial penalties and lost their customers’ trust (and their dollars) because of a privacy mishap. Treating your customers’ privacy with respect and transparency is vital, both for avoiding lawsuits and for gaining trust and loyalty. Here are some measures that your business can take to address your customers’ most pressing concerns regarding their privacy.

  1. Reviewing Online Data Collection Practices: Believe it or not, many businesses struggle with even understanding what types of data they’re gathering, if or why they need it, and what risks are associated with retaining that information. Ensure that you know what type of customer information you have access to, as well as any third parties that may also have access to it. No matter how secure you think your business is, you are vulnerable to hackers. As the old adage goes, what you don’t know can’t hurt you, so review your online data collection and retention practices, and only gather what you need in order to sell your products or services.
  2. Provide Easy Access to Your Privacy Policy: Because online privacy is such a pressing concern, transparency is vital. Don’t bury your privacy policy in small print and legal jargon. Your customer should be able to easily understand what information is being gathered and kept, why it improves their experience with your brand, and whether their information will be sold to a third party.
  3. Provide the Ability to Opt Out: No matter how upfront you are with the whats and whys regarding the data you collect, some of your customers will still feel uncomfortable with the idea of any of their personal information being accessible. Instead of risking the loss of their business, design a simple and easily visible opt-out option that allows your site visitors to decline the collection of their data.

The issue of data security isn’t one that can be ignored, regardless of the size of your business or how much or how little customer data you collect. Protecting customer data with the same care and diligence with which you protect your financial information isn’t just good customer service; failing to do so could result in hefty fines, lawsuits, and loss of clientele. Data breaches are an unfortunate reality, so ensure that your business has a detailed security policy that is communicated to everyone within the company, and take every measure you can to protect the information your customers have entrusted to you.