OPINION

How Eroding Trust Hurts Companies

I love all the innovation and trends in the wireless, telecom, television, Internet and tech space. However there is also a big warning light flashing ahead that no one is paying attention to…trust is eroding. Trust is a delicate thing and is being ignored. Innovation is great, but if we don’t protect the privacy and personal information of users, they will lose trust and that will bite us in the end.

There are so many examples. Here are three to think about.

One, we learned a few days ago how Samsung Smart TV records its users’ voices and they sell that information to advertisers without customer permission or knowledge. They discuss it in the terms and conditions, but who reads that?

I don’t know about you, but I cherish my privacy. There are times when I know there is little or no privacy and I watch what I say. However, when I am alone in my home or office, I consider that my safe zone.

That was until Samsung crossed the line. If Samsung is doing it, what other TV manufacturers are doing the same, or worse? Plenty, I fear — and likely not just from the TV.

Two, Congressman Edward Markey says automobiles sold today contain information systems that can be broken into by hackers. Of course, this information can also be sold by the automobile industry for commercial reasons.

Right now automakers appear to be either unaware of the dire implications, or simply don’t care. That’s another problem.

Government Intervention

Markey is asking the world’s automakers to create mandatory safeguards. He says that today’s cars are collecting mountains of sensitive and private information about personal driving habits, locations driven, and history.

Bad guys, or even good guys such as third-party advertisers, would be very interested in getting their hands on this information.

Three, Facebook put a fork in protecting user information a long time ago. They don’t hide it, but they still do it. They simply state that if you want to use our service, you have to play by our rules.

Fair enough. However, there is no other Facebook for users to turn to. This is another real problem.

So what’s the solution? Should the government proclaim that Facebook’s success in owning its segment of the market makes it a monopoly — and therefore it should be controlled by the government?

This is a problem that companies are creating for themselves. They think it’s OK not to pay attention to users’ concerns. This sets the stage for dramatic customer action — and that is the last thing that companies want to deal with.

This is the problem that companies don’t realize they are facing by ignoring the end user. Companies that don’t take care of their customers, their workers and their partners, eventually pay a very high price.

Companies should work hard to protect users’ privacy and information if customers want this.

Simple Solution

The question I have is: Will users ultimately get so upset about how companies are playing fast and loose with their personal data, that they finally push back?

The solution is simple: Leave it up to the customer to choose. Everything should be turned off unless the customer decides it’s ok to listen in. Give the customers the pros and cons and let them make the decision.

There will still be plenty who opt in. If so, they can flip a switch and let their personal information out. If not, they can protect themselves.

Simple solution right? Why then, are companies not paying attention yet?

Remember when the word came out that smartphones were able to track a user’s location and activity? There was pushback.

However, when customers discovered there was benefit to this, most opted in. Now, many people like getting location-based information and special offers pushed to them. So users are willing to make the tradeoff of privacy for features.

That is what’s missing currently. The choice is not given to the end user. Some people are ok being tracked, but others are not. Why don’t they count?

I think if the industry keeps pushing ahead with little or no regard to the personal privacy and preferences of its users, it will come back to bite them in the rear end in a variety of ways.

Both the selling of personal information for commercial purposes, or break-ins exposing sensitive information to the bad guys are increasingly a risk today. As Congressman Markey noted on the automotive privacy issue, it’s all part of the same ball of wax.

If these problems are not solved, it will eventually hurt the end user, and that will hurt all companies that are blindly playing along. Remember, every coin has two sides.

Of course, if companies and industries don’t protect the end users on their own, the government could step in and force them to do the right thing. That’s the threat that Congressman Markey represents.

So the bell is ringing. I hope that companies and industries choose to acknowledge the problem and do the right things on their own. One way or another, something will be done.

Wrapping Up

One, the simplest solution is to give the customer the choice to opt in or opt out.

Two, the next solution is to make sure you protect your users from break-ins. Perhaps this is something that can come from these companies themselves, or perhaps it can be a solution similar to the way that Norton Anti-Virus or McAfee protects us.

There is still plenty of work that has to be done, and plenty of conversations that should be had and plans that should be made, but the bottom line is we can no longer ignore this glaring issue.

Either industry must solve these problems or the heavy-handed government will do it for them. The choice seems clear to me. That’s the choice we now face.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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