Taking Care of User Privacy Also Takes Care of Your Company

Word on the street is that data is the new currency. Well it seems that now, privacy is part of that currency too. Privacy has been, to date, an afterthought; something that the early web pioneers just didn’t have on their radar. Connecting people, sharing content and leveraging huge oceans of data was the priority.

But the Internet has changed since those early days and the people using it have become more educated and more demanding of how it works.

This is where privacy has become the preeminent issue. It has been a slow movement, originally propagated by privacy advocates who fought long and hard to have a privacy layer as part of all Internet transactions, privacy is now moving into the mainstream and more people have expectations of controlling their personal privacy matters. Know Privacy, a not for profit research project through Berkeley University, have found that the biggest issue for users when it comes to privacy is personal control.

The social and political movement towards privacy has not been lost on the wider Internet. Players such as the search engine, Yandex, have recognised and embraced this. Yandex have moved out of the search engine space and now also offer a secure browser; the browser was a direct response to this increased requirement for personal privacy. Yandex have also found that their privacy strategy is paying off in terms of share price. The Google anti-trust investigation in Russia has resulted in the Russian public moving away from Google to Yandex, the result of Yandex stock rising in a highly competitive market — Yandex now owns 60% of the Russian browser market; taking privacy seriously seems to pay on both sides of the Internet playground.

How is Privacy Implemented?

Privacy settings within a given web application or platform have typically been shrouded in mystery and making settings obvious has been one of the issues that has fuelled debates across the industry, about just how privacy should be implemented.

One of the areas that privacy advocates have been shouting about, for many years, is the use of ‘opt in’ as opposed to the more default setting applied by developers of ‘opt out’. This seemingly simple click has massive connotations for privacy. This issue was raised way back in 2002 by researchers in the USA and Australia in research work entitled, ‘Defaults, Framing and Privacy: Why Opting In-Opting Out’ where they concluded that: “…A larger question surrounds the use of opt-in and opt-out strategies for public choices. Increasing evidence indicates that defaults are powerful influences of choice, even when the stakes are high”. One of the largest users of using a default opt-in approach was Facebook, however after much pressure from privacy advocates and users, they finally capitulated and changed to a more user controlled opt-out option.

One very well-known privacy advocate, Malcolm Crompton, former Privacy Commissioner of Australia and now Managing Director of privacy specialist firm IIS Pty Ltd, has seen significant change over the last ten years, especially in the last three or four. Malcom told me recently that, “Individuals are now much more conscious that ‘something’ is happening with their personal information, even if they do not fully understand all the ramifications. He observed that “with increased awareness of the impact of personal information on individual lives, people are expecting greater user choice. There are many examples. But to pick just one, look at the increasing use of dialogue boxes in smartphone Apps that seek permission to use Contacts information or Location information.”
Giving users’ choice in what they disclose and whom they disclose it to is a crucial part of privacy implementation and is guided by the use of privacy settings. The trouble is that often these settings are either hidden within a myriad of other settings, or are very difficult to use. When you are working with the general public and have a wide demographic in which to optimise usability, you must simplify things. Many technology firms have been guilty of making privacy way too complex, not only have they hidden privacy settings within other settings, but there were far too many of them. Again because of consumer pressure, many tech firms are now tackling this issue and have simplified them somewhat, but they are still fairly complicated for the average user.

Making Privacy Part of the Normal Operations

Making privacy a natural part of online interaction is key. We should link privacy and consented release of data with rewards. We all love to be rewarded for doing something positive and service providers / technology firms should reward customers who choose to share data with them — this helps to build an ongoing relationship between yourself and your customer, opening avenues of trust and helping with customer retention.

From the eWise Personal Data Vault, users can manage their personal financial data via simple toggle switches. These simple switches allow users to determine who has access to their personal financial information and what they can do with it.