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Securing Consumer Trust and the Countdown to DNT

Written on
Dec 12, 2012 
Author
Chris Babel  |

While some may not like it, the countdown is on for Do Not Track (DNT). But even as the clock ticks, a heated debate continues.

Businesses fear that DNT will cut their revenues by reducing customer engagement on their sites and restricting innovation. Consumer advocates worry about the loss of personal privacy and favor blocking tracking altogether. Browser makers each have a different perspective, including whether DNT should be an opt-in or opt-out choice.

While progress by the industry-led coalition for DNT – the W3C Do Not Track Working Group – has been slow, regulators are adamant that some form of DNT is needed. So, even though the question remains as to how DNT will be implemented and regulated within the industry, its certainty is inevitable.

But without a formal DNT requirement in place, most businesses have taken a “wait and see” approach. This is a mistake; while you may not be able to address DNT yet, you can take definitive action to data privacy management and ensure you are both compliant as well as doing everything you can to build consumer trust. With consumer trust at stake, this is no time to sit on the sidelines while the industry works toward consensus.  Businesses need to proactively keep customers at the forefront of their mind as they consider the steps needed to ensure consumer confidence and build trust.

Establishing a strategy and solid foundation for all data privacy management is essential in order to balance technology innovation with consumer engagement in today’s fast-moving digital world. Businesses must not only embrace the inevitability of DNT but also take steps now to ensure a scalable platform is in place to address both today’s and tomorrow’s data privacy management challenges.

Evaluate Existing Data Management Policies

The first step is to review existing data management policies. Businesses need to ensure that their policies not only meet regulatory requirements but also reflect best practices across all of their online businesses. This includes websites, as well as mobile and cloud channels. By doing so, businesses build and convey brand integrity and show an ongoing commitment to best practices across all sectors.

Strong data management policies affect a consumer’s perception about a website, building trust and leading to more interactions. By showing that digital information is handled respectfully in all areas – and gaining customer trust – businesses can leverage new and innovative technologies without fear of reduced engagement.

Give Customers What They Want: Transparency and Choice

Many businesses don’t fully understand what consumers need to feel confident and secure in a data-driven online world. This is complicated by the fact that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to sharing personal data, and what works for one person may not work for another.

However, research has overwhelmingly shown that the vast majority of consumers want control over their choices when it comes to their online privacy and tracking. In numerous surveys, TRUSTe has also found that most consumers are open to new technologies, such as relevant targeted advertising, as long as they are given notice and choice. Simple and easily accessed privacy policies – giving consumers the choice to participate or not – have been demonstrated time and again to increase consumer confidence.

Businesses should not wait for DNT to give consumers the transparency and choice they both expect and deserve.

Be Proactive When It Comes to Regulatory Requirements

Once again, businesses cannot wait until DNT specifications are finalized to do the right thing for consumers. They should be proactive in understanding what tracking is already occurring on their sites. By doing so, they not only protect their customers, but also their own site assets from being used inappropriately by unauthorized parties. Businesses need to take responsibility for both direct and indirect activity occurring on their sites and track privacy compliance exposure on their platforms.

Further, businesses should take steps to comply with international regulations pertaining to tracking policies that are already in place, such as the EU Cookie Directive. Companies doing business in Europe need to obtain consent prior to storing or accessing data on a consumer’s computer. Interestingly, since the Directive’s implementation, the percentage of consumers who have chosen to change their settings and prohibit tracking or “advertising cookies” has been very low.

Don’t Put Consumer Trust at Risk

According to its October 2, 2012 blog, the W3C expects to publish a “stable” DNT standard sometime in 2013. The stated intent of the standard is to foster increased consumer trust on the web.

Businesses should not and do not need to wait until the DNT standard is finalized to start building consumer trust. In addition to tapping into the expertise of privacy compliance experts from law firms (or your in-house legal team if it exists), there are a wide range of products and services available today that can help you do everything from certify your privacy management practices, analyze the tracking activity on your websites, provide consumers with proper notice and choice regarding your behavioral advertising practices, and much more.





Chris Babel is the CEO of TRUSTe, the leading trustmark and recognized authority on Internet trust and privacy. Chris possesses over a decade of experience building online trust, most recently as Senior Vice President and General Manager of VeriSign’s worldwide Authentication Services business, where he was responsible for strategy, sales, marketing, product and support.

Chris also previously managed VeriSign’s SSL and Managed Security Services business. In these roles he helped grow the businesses though the launch of new products to enterprise and small/medium businesses, international expansion in EMEA and Asia and through acquisition and integration of a number of companies. Chris also spent time in Corporate Development and as Chief of Staff to the CEO where he led strategic planning and execution of over 20 acquisitions.

Prior to joining VeriSign, Chris served as an Associate in Morgan Stanley’s Technology Mergers and Acquisitions group and its Corporate Finance group working on transactions like Netscape's sale to AOL.

Chris holds a BA in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences and Economics with Highest Distinction from Northwestern University and lives with his wife and three sons in San Francisco.

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