Article

Benjamin Arie
Benjamin Arie 12 April 2019

How To Protect Customer Privacy In The Digital Era

Here’s how to protect customer privacy in the age of data breaches, and what your team will need to do to ensure IT integrity across the board.

The digital era has brought with it an unprecedented slew of opportunities that businesses can exploit, yet making a buck in this day and age is often less about maximizing profits and more about caring about customers. With data breaches seizing national headlines every day, most digital consumers are concerned that their information is being stolen or exploited by nefarious actors. For a legitimate business to make money, you need to convince customers their privacy will be protected despite the vulnerabilities brought about by the digital era.

Here’s how to protect customer privacy in the age of data breaches, and what your team will need to do to ensure IT integrity across the board.

Start with your own team

Before you can hope to protect the privacy and data of your customers, you’ll need to master securing your own server and that information belonging to your team members. After all, it’s essentially impossible to protect customers from hackers or data loss when your everyday operations and rank and file workers are unsecured. Getting cybersecurity right starts with recognizing how important the human element is, as too much automation and an overreliance on software can ultimately backfire.

As the Harvard Business Review points out, the human element of cybersecurity is essential because your employees are the first and last line of defense when it comes to company data. Regardless of how much money you invest in IT security, the overall integrity of your network could be breached if an overworked employee leaves their password written down on their desk for all eyes to see. If your workers aren’t up to date on what hackers are looking for, too, they’ll be helpless when it comes to securing customer privacy. It’s thus imperative that you instill a strong culture of IT security across the company’s ranks if you want to cover your weak spots.

After ensuring that everyone has updated hardware and is thoroughly trained in basic IT matters, you can begin to focus on customers themselves. In the digital era, customers are huge sources of information; most businesses keep track of what their consumers buy, how often they make a purchase, and the average amount they spend on each outing. Keeping this information safe and secure isn’t only important because you want to remain competitive; losing track of customer info to a data breach or hacker can ignite a disastrous PR nightmare that sinks even the best of businesses.

Some companies think they can collect as much data as they want on customers as long as they anonymize it. As a matter of fact, however, make your data anonymous isn’t nearly enough – you need a thorough IT security regime to ensure the customer’s privacy is maintained at every step of the business process.

Privacy risks are lurking everywhere

To understand the anxiety of modern customers, you need to appreciate the fact that privacy risks are lurking everywhere. You make think anonymizing data is enough, but there are reasons to believe that there’s more to security than just wiping recognizable information from your datasets. In many circumstances, customer data that’s been anonymized can be reconstructed with the help of software, and in some cases clever hackers can simply piece together what’s missing on the basis of what they already know about the hacked individuals.

Current approaches to data security that emphasis anonymity are clearly not enough. While adding “white noise” by injecting useless data into your dataset to confuse hackers is growing more popular, robust steps need to be taken to ensure that customers aren’t divulging personal information when they don’t need to. Make sure that customers are briefed well-ahead of time on your data collection policy, as transparency is always the best option in the digital era. Hiding what you’re collecting from customers could lead them to mistrust you in the future, and in certain areas of the world could result in hefty fines that your business has to grapple with.

The EU’s recent enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has already reshaped IT security, for instance, as it’s forced many companies to be upfront about what data they vacuum up when users visit their site. Businesses who want to remain compliant with privacy regulations in the future should thoroughly study existing laws and prepare themselves for additional consumer protection policies that are doubtlessly coming.

Be honest with customers

At the end of the day, protecting privacy and anonymity in the digital era is all about being honest with customers from the get-go. Hiding the data you’re collecting from your site’s users will only get you in hot water down the line, and refusing to be transparent about how your company is targeting people with advertisements could ignite a PR nightmare for you at the worst time possible. Be sure that your customers and digital users understand how and why you’re collecting their information, as establishing trust and transparency is going to be the basis of business relationships going into the 21st century.

Similarly, your employees should completely understand your company’s IT regulations and have a strong sense of the company culture that should be constantly emphasizing data privacy. This means you can’t collect too much information on your workers without their consent and understanding, too. As long as you champion transparency and focus on collecting only what matters, you’ll be protecting customer privacy regardless of the many threats stemming from the digital era.

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