I’ve often been discouraged by the attitudes towards privacy of some very successful online entrepreneurs. Some years ago, Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems famously stated “Privacy is dead. Get over it.” If you can believe the movies, the founder of Facebook.com, Mark Zuckerberg, seemed to have a terrible attitude about privacy. In The Social Network, he thought he should be rewarded for hacking into his college records systems.
But over the past week, the News of the World phone hacking scandal is showing that people still care about privacy and that the damages for ignoring privacy can be lethal to a company’s bottom line. So far, this phone hacking scandal has taken down several CEOs & police executives and it appears to be moving on to political figures and even the very top levels of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Wow!
So for those who take people’s privacy lightly, I’d say beware. What’s happening right now proves that when you stomp on a person’s private space illegally, you risk financial ruin.
The other night I watched a program called “The Mind of Google” and in it, former CEO, Eric Schmidt was very frank about privacy. He pointed out that Google users trust Google and if it ever became evident that Google abused that trust, users would flee from them. I think he’s right. Even the almighty Google could be destroyed if they compromised the privacy of their users.
Larry Page, a founder of Google, was quoted in 2006 as stating, “Our company relies on having the trust of our users and using that information for that benefit,” said Page. “That’s a very strong motivation for us. We’re committed to that. If you start to mandate how products are designed, I think that’s a really bad path to follow. I think instead we should have laws that protect the privacy of data, for example, from government requests and other kinds of requests.”
Surely, this attitude towards privacy of their customers will help them to continue succeeding. So, why does this matter to you?
Think about your customers. How would you feel if a company that you trusted with your information was found to be selling it or treating it carelessly. If you have a web site and you take credit cards, you don’t want to be the last place a customer visited before their credit card number was stolen.
What can you do?
First, take customer privacy seriously and keep learning about how to secure your customer’s information so that it will never be compromised. You can get information on the IBM P3P Policy Editor here: http://www.p3ptoolbox.org/tools/resources1.shtml . It’s free and that web site is sponsored by the Internet Education Froundation.
You should also learn about SSL Certificates. These software tools are put out by Verisign, Thawte, and Comodo (amongst others). You subscribe to them on an annual basis or you can buy several years at a time. The SSL Certificate is used to encrypt information that is filled in on certain forms within your web site. So, if your customer is filling in their credit card or social security number, you can acquire it securely. SSL Certificates come in various configurations and levels of encryption. They’re not a do-it-yourself kind of project unless you are a programmer or a host, but there are many hosting companies and ecommerce service providers like Paypal and others who can get them in place for you.
Finally, follow the online privacy laws. There are several newsletters and websites that you can check to make sure you are following the law and the best practices within your state, and/or federally. Here are a few resources on privacy matters: