Everyone’s done it.

We’ve all taken that curious ego trip down Google and searched for ourselves online. You might be expecting certain things, a local headline you appeared in for a school achievement way back when, your carefully prepped LinkedIn profile. But you might also come across information that you weren’t aware would be so easily accessible. Old posts you made on websites eons ago, details of your favourite foods or preferences for locations, even photos you never intended for the entire world to see.

Jacky Wagner has written an article for Pricewaterhouse Coopers describing the way in which this data can be canvassed by corporations, companies or brands. Although the collection of such information is well considered for well meant intentions, this may lead consumers to feel like they’re being followed or stalked, depending on how that data is used. She describes the following scene:

"Imagine this. You’ve booked a city weekend break online. When you arrive at the hotel, your favourite music is playing in your room. You receive an SMS from a local restaurant informing you that it has a special on your favourite kind of food. Your sports app on your mobile phone flags up that there’s a lovely river path nearby, just the right distance for your morning run. The weekend is off to a perfect start.
Or is it? You don’t remember telling any of these providers about your personal preferences. You certainly don’t recall agreeing that your personal lifestyle data could be used for marketing. And you despise commercial intrusion on your mobile phone. As a consumer, you might feel like you’re being watched or stalked somehow.”

Jacky Wagner

With technology being so much a part of daily life and so widely accessible, it’s no surprise that many people these days are wary about sharing their personal information online. Privacy is a paramount concern for many consumers. According to the TRUSTe U.S Consumer Privacy Report, about 92% of the U.S internet users worry about their privacy online, 83% are reluctant to engage with online ads and 80% will not use an app they believe won’t protect their privacy.

A third of consumers across Europe are unwilling to trust any organisation with their personal information, but acknowledge that disclosing personal information is increasingly becoming a part of every-day life. However, in a study conducted by the European Commission, 43% of Europeans believe that some of the data they have been asked to provide was irrelevant to the services they were receiving.

In Australia, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OIAC) found that 43% of people believed that online services posed the greatest privacy risk, with only 9% of people considering them to be trustworthy.

This concern with how personal information is handled can affect whether or not a consumer chooses to use your services in the future. About 60% of respondents in the OAIC survey revealed that they would not deal with an organisation if they felt there were issues pertaining to their privacy and handling of personal information.

It’s clear that around the world, that privacy is paramount for consumers, who are concerned about the treatment of their personal information. Yet, from a business perspective it’s important to understand your customers in order to provide them with the best possible service you can manage. But where do you draw the line?

It boils down to a few simple rules:

Make your privacy policy transparent

The average privacy policy takes approximately 10 minutes to read, and if you were to spend this time reading all the private policies for each service you use, this could take from 200-250 hours per year to do. With this in mind, consider that 73% of people admit to not reading the Terms and Conditions or fine print, and 17% admit they don’t understand what’s being said.

It’s time to make your Privacy Policy easy to access. Some of the top concerns for consumers are what information you’re collecting, who you’re sharing it with and what avenues for communication and redress are available when a breach in their privacy occurs. Make sure these aspects of your policy are clearly addressed and accessible.

That being said, it’s also important to make sure your private policy and guidelines are regularly updated to keep pace with the way in which data is collected – and always let your customers know when changes are made.

Allow users to choose what information they share

Giving your users the option of choosing which information they provide inspires trust in your services and allows them to take an active part in how their information is handled. Facebook, for example, allows users to select the type of access particular apps have to their profile pages upon usage.

Respect boundaries

Be aware of what data is relevant to your service. Make sure you are astute and consider whether or not it is appropriate to use client data.

This applies to engaging with consumers online as well. For example, if you work in the hospitality industry, customer feedback across social media is crucial for monitoring the success of your service. Creating rapport between your company and your customers by engaging with posts on social can help promote a positive experience, however it is important to know when it is alright to engage your customer and when it is best to leave them be. Some profiles on social media might be aimed towards family and friends rather than the general public, so it’s best to keep this in mind when you are responding to clients on social.

Ensure your technology is up to date and secure

With increasing developments in technology, the nature of personal information and the way it is distributed is fluid, which means you have to keep up to date with the measures taken to help protect the privacy of your consumers, and make sure they’re aware of it too.