It seems that every other day, we’re hearing about more data breaches. From the TJX credit card breach years ago, to the JP Morgan Chase “glitch” that exposed bank account details, to the recent Orbitz data leak that exposed credit card info to the Facebook data breach that is currently making headlines—the news is peppered with details of consumer’s personal information being leaked, sold or exposed where it shouldn’t be.
What does this mean for the future of privacy? And what does this mean for the future of digital consumerism? Why does there seem to be such an influx of data breaches in recent years? How can we strike a balance between addressing the rising desire for more personalization in digital experiences—including the increased demand for digitalization and personalization in the consumer journey—with the absolute right to consumer privacy?
First and foremost, the increase in data breaches seems to correlate to the massive increase in online activity. As years tick by, more and more people are spending time on social media—sharing (sometimes unwittingly) their personal data. More and more people are completing their purchases online instead of heading to brick and mortar stores. Were major companies prepared for this massive influx of activity? Perhaps not. Now we face the problem of tech companies, social media platforms and e-commerce websites rushing to catch up to both the demand of consumers and the ingenuity of hackers.
In the midst of a rare interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, journalist Brian Stelter (commenting on this problem in the context of Facebook’s data breach with Cambridge Analytica) said, “Loose data policies in the past are still haunting the company [Facebook] today. This situation is shining a bright light on what’s really a very dark corner of the web.” That dark corner is the issue of privacy—of what’s being done with our data.
It’s unlikely in this age of online shopping, social media posting, email and online banking that we will all stop using any form of digital media. So, in light of recent breaches, what does the future of privacy look like? To a certain extent, until both federal regulations and enterprise privacy policies catch up to both the level of consumer activity and the cunning of hackers, developers and other ne’er-do-wells, there is an onus on consumers to protect our own data the best we can. What can you do to protect your data?
- First and foremost, assume some of your data has been taken. It happens more often than you think.
- Refresh passwords often, especially on sites with sensitive information.
- Use strong passwords—not your birthday, address, or Social Security number.
- Pay attention to apps you install on your mobile device—especially the free ones. They usually require ridiculous access to data on your phone. This includes apps you use through platforms such as Facebook. (Every time you want to know what you would look like as the opposite gender, what tattoo is best for you, what personality type you are—you’re giving access to a vast amount of your data to the developer of that app)
- Be mindful of the websites you visit—make sure they’re secure (hint: look for the https)
- Refrain from using public wi-fi if possible—especially for financial transactions.
Bottom line, even Facebook’s Zuckerberg admits that it’s time for federal regulation to help protect consumer privacy online. In his CNN interview, he said it’s not a matter of if Facebook (and others) should be regulated, but “the question actually is, what’s the right regulation?” Until that happens, and until companies like Facebook, Chase, TJX and others develop the AI capabilities to detect hackers, data-miners and developers with ill intentions—consumers must become more privacy-aware.
As a business striving to grow your presence online, is there anything to worry about? The short answer is yes and no. Worry about your consumers’ privacy. Take all the measures you can to provide a secure, safe relationship with your consumers online. But should you worry that your consumers will stop searching, engaging and purchasing online? No. Credit card hacks happen—people are still shopping online. Data breaches happen, they are still flocking to Facebook. So, while the future of digital privacy still remains a bit uncertain, thus far it’s not deterred consumers in any measurable way—and it’s not likely to.
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