Technology powers economic growth, though that strength comes at a price for businesses and consumers. Even as businesses demand greater sophistication in technology, they continue to be beleaguered by issues of privacy and security.

Many tech companies still play fast and loose with consumer data, willing to take risks to bolster their bottom-line. There have been shocking privacy breaches and security failures over the past few years. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that third-party vendors also have access to a trove of personal data, which is often utilised for financial or political gain — ethical or not.

Cambridge Analytica may have only used the data of only 270,000 Facebook users, but it ultimately compromised 87 million consumers. These instances have led to the public’s loss of trust in many tech service providers.

Mind the freebies

More often than not, it’s companies that offer their product for “free” that are at the centre of such breaches, as they are dependent on advertising revenue. Through the registration process, these companies monitor and gather personal information, including the location, contacts and online history. This gives the companies insight into actionable market segments that they can then sell off to the highest bidding advertisers.

Advertisers pay more for accurate market segmentation insights, but it costs customers their privacy. Consumer privacy is fundamentally incompatible with an online ad-revenue strategy. In fact, most people are shocked when they uncover the amount of information social media and other companies have gathered about them. Progressive governments in the region, with the UAE in the front line, are demanding — and enforcing — change. They understand that many of today’s tech-business models depend on the violation of consumer privacy.

The right to privacy

As a business leader, how confident are you that the privacy of your business and your consumers is being properly protected? What is your strategy to ensure higher agility for your business by securing your IP (intellectual property) and data? Do you have a strong system in place to prevent hackers stealing business or customers data? The burden for protecting consumer privacy is increasingly falling back on to the shoulders of businesses. Companies must now make consumer privacy their responsibility, and here are some suggestions on how best to do that:

Step 1: Examine your processes for data collection. Adopt a policy of asking for the least amount of user information, gathering only what is needed to do business.

Step 2: When you collect customer information, inform them what you are taking. Be transparent so that there are no surprises down the road.

Step 3: Companies that skimp on privacy protections — or honour them only when they are mandated — are destined to be shunned. Different regions may have different regulations, but privacy and security are global issues. Understand that today’s consumers expect businesses to adhere to the highest level of security and privacy standards.

Step 4: Rewrite the old-fashioned privacy policies. Most consumers just click the “agree” button without knowing what they are agreeing to. This is because the conventional private policy statements are written by lawyers with the intent to confuse and create ambiguity among users. Make your policy so plain and simple that even a 5th-grader can comprehend it.

Step 5: If your business is ever breached, inform your users right away that their data has been compromised. Consumers tend to find this out in the media. Your users deserve to know the truth, and they deserve to hear it directly from you, not on their news feed.

An approach to privacy stems from a corporate moral footing. When it is a reaction to regulation, it will always fall short.

Consumers as well as regulators in the region are demanding full accountability and, increasingly, will reward those companies that make data privacy a central tenet of their business strategy.

Ali Shabdaar is regional Business Development Director at Zoho Corporation.