Three data privacy myths every business leader should challenge

Data privacy

Data privacy matters. For too long, companies and entities have had the upper hand when it comes to data, practicing dodgy tactics and getting away with them. It’s fair to say it’s been like the Wild West. Now the tide has turned. Consumers are worried about how their personal information gets used, and they’re learning to assert what exactly they’re willing to share, and how they’re willing to share it.

We should view this as a positive change. By listening to consumers, we can learn to innovate around privacy and grow our top lines and consumer bases – all while cementing our brands as trustworthy and transparent.

But we have some way before we reach that reality. There are many critical voices out there who see the pursuit of stronger data privacy everywhere as a consumer versus business fight, and some don’t want to give up decades of poor data handling.

Here are three myths about data privacy, and how we can combat them to move towards a better, privacy-first future for brands and consumers alike:

Only legal teams are responsible for data protection

 As data privacy becomes a core issue for businesses around the world, it’s time to retire the idea that only legal departments are responsible for privacy and data protection. “It’s a data problem with legal implications not a legal problem with data implications”, says Debbie Reynolds, The Data Diva. Business, legal and tech – everyone has a responsibility to show a commitment to respectful, careful data practices. Today, organizations engage their tech teams to drive efficiency and automation, but companies also need to get marketing involved. Cultivating a culture where privacy matters is not just for the consumer, or for satisfying various international laws or regulations. Employee privacy matters, too. If a business can demonstrate that it cares about the choices each individual employee makes about how their personal information gets used and shared across the organization, among other employees, or even partners, it sets a precedent. Hopefully, such a culture will pervade and create an environment where privacy remains at the heart of every strategic business decision.

Pro forma user agreements are all organizations need

Almost every marketing department has an inscrutable set of brand guidelines. It’s how they keep their tone of voice consistent, their messaging on-brand, and their campaigns coherent and seamless across customer touchpoints. So why don’t brands take this same approach to their user agreements? User agreements are often full of legal jargon and technical details that the average consumer won’t – or simply won’t want to – understand. As consumers and end-users, we have become so accustomed to beautiful tech experiences on beautiful devices. Every swipe and tap has been carefully designed to be as ergonomic and enjoyable as possible. Let’s start reimagining user agreements in the same way. Let’s bring the same beauty and discipline that’s inherent in all the other products and services to user agreements. This isn’t a frivolous point. As we learn more about how consumers view data privacy, we are learning what’s important to them. Consumers need transparency. They need to know how exactly their data gets used and what they’re consenting to in terms of how it’s used. It's not just about privacy notices and policies with consumers, or contracts with vendors – when a consumer makes a privacy choice, companies should reflect it across all of a brand’s data systems. This isn’t easy to figure out from a 12-page document of use cases. Respect the consumer’s needs for simple, clear details on how the company using their data and the business will get rewarded by long-term loyalty.

Nobody actually cares about privacy

Consumers highly value their data privacy and have emerged as an important motivator for brands to adopt responsible data practices. As more laws and regulations emerge, and as customers come to expect better from brands, businesses will have to adopt stronger privacy practices. Businesses will start requiring the talent, tools, and policies to create an ethos and environment of watertight privacy within their organization. Some time ago, businesses could generally get away with misusing their customers’ data – perhaps paying a fine for any misdeed before issuing an apology and moving quietly on. Today, everything has changed. When Sephora was recently hit with a $1.2 million fine for violating the California Consumer Privacy Act, everyone took note. The financial penalties for using bad data practices and being caught out are clearly significant, but the repercussions are no longer just about the financial hit. These misdeeds are tarnishing corporate reputations, too – just look at the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal and how much that damage did to the public’s perception of these companies.

Reputational damage holds, and businesses must take note of this. Companies cannot afford to be sloppy with consumer data and hope that nobody finds out. Consumers and regulators now expect far more than just the bare minimum when it comes to data privacy.

Russell Howe, vice president, EMEA, Ketch.

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