Online privacy and security breeds customer confidence

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Chris Babel, CEO, TRUSTe
Chris Babel, CEO, TRUSTe

Seventy-five percent of consumers believe the internet is not a safe place to conduct business.

This is just one of the many findings from our recent nationwide privacy survey of more than 1,000 consumers. To maximize future opportunities, businesses must establish protection measures that ensure a safe online shopping experience for their customers.

Protecting customers' personal information – doing the ‘right' thing – is also smart business. By making consumers feel confident and secure on websites, companies increase engagement and, ultimately, sales.

Beyond the clear ethical and economic incentives, companies also face new and emerging privacy regulations. While innovative practices like online behavioral advertising allow companies to more accurately identify and meet customer needs, they also bring new challenges.

Our survey found that while 70 percent of consumers are aware of behavioral advertising, more than half are not favorable toward the concept. To overcome such obstacles, businesses need to show consumers that their personal information is safe on their sites, and have concrete and clear procedures in place to handle customer data safely.

Respect customer privacy and make privacy practices clear

Show sensitivity toward consumer concerns and take steps to address them on your site. By respecting your customers' privacy, you create a relationship built on trust, giving them greater confidence to engage in online interactions with your company. 

A consumer's privacy perception about a website can absolutely impact the way that they interact with it. Communicate respect for customer privacy on your website through clear and accessible privacy notices that explain how you manage their personal information.

According to our survey, consumers look to themselves most to protect their privacy, but they also believe that retailers, website owners, publishers, ISPs and browsers hold significant responsibility for safeguarding their data.

Allow customers to create their own boundaries

When it comes to sharing personal data, consumer comfort levels can vary greatly, so you should always offer your customers a choice. For many consumers the mere existence of a choice gives them confidence, regardless of whether they exercise that choice.

The personal data choices you offer your customers should be clearly presented and easy to understand. Let customers make the choice to participate or opt-out. Consumers want privacy controls.

Implement consistent privacy policies across all online channels

Mobile commerce is growing rapidly and holds tremendous promise for retailers and other businesses. However, consumers are even more privacy-sensitive about location tracking and the use of their personal data on mobile devices. 

Mobile users are demanding more transparency about how their information is used and what choices are available to them. For example, while collecting behavioral-based information through a mobile site or application can enhance the services provided to customers, this information should not be shared with a third-party without customer permission.

Furthermore, make sure that privacy policies are optimized for use on smartphones and other mobile devices by using shorter, layered privacy notices that enhance readability on smaller screens. This gives consumers the privacy information they want in an easy-to-use, drill-down format, so that they can quickly return to interactions – i.e. shopping – on your mobile site or app. 

An open compliance platform shows commitment toward consumers

Forrester Research recently released a report titled “Online Advertising Data Compliance Matters.” The report encourages brands to take charge of their compliance obligations, and concludes that the benefits of participating in online advertising compliance outweigh the costs.

In a future that may well see more Federal Trade Commission actions and privacy legislation, a behavioral advertising compliance platform immediately demonstrates your commitment to consumer privacy protection. The advertising industry has created a broad self-regulatory program for online advertising through the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA).

Research has shown that consumers are more positive toward advertisers and brand websites when they see trustmarks and compliance symbols such as the DAA's blue "Advertising Option Icon." These trust symbols show customers that you actively address privacy issues and take their safety and concerns seriously. TRUSTe has found that companies displaying our green privacy seal achieve consistent lift and ROI. That's right, privacy can affect your bottom line.

Online advertising is growing at a phenomenal pace, and there's no turning back. According to MAGNAGLOBAL's "2011 Advertising Forecast," paid online search advertising will grow from $34.9 billion in 2011 to $61.1 billion in 2016. 

Businesses need to understand that security and privacy measures are required to successfully operate in this new and rapidly changing environment.

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