Business Technology

How can businesses maintain data ethics and build digital trust?

5 min read

17 March 2016

The digital age has made consumers grow weary about what happens to their data. As such, we talked with experts from Striata to find out which steps businesses can take to establish a relationship of trust.

Today’s data savvy consumer is becoming more aware of the value of their digital identity and of the subtle contracts they enter into when completing website registrations and accepting cookies.

The conflict between the data protection promised to consumers and the legal and practical reality of what is delivered is a crucial one. A data ethics breach, regardless of the rhyme or reason, has the potential to damage a brand in the same way a data security breach would.

Mike Wright, CEO of Striata, a paperless communications specialist, is of the belief that data processors face increasingly tough challenges when it comes to maintaining digital trust.

He said: “An average consumer’s digital identity consists of millions of data points generated while buying, banking, downloading, sharing and registering via online services. These are all activities we happily participate in on a daily basis and the information we leave behind in the process is hugely important, and requires protection as it is a goldmine of insights for businesses. 

“This data, if leveraged, forms a picture of an individual’s interests and purchasing behaviour that can be used by businesses to further their commercial objectives.”

There are several crucial steps businesses can take to establish a relationship of digital trust, Wright said. The first and most critical is asking permission to record personal information and communicate through digital channels. Without taking this step, any use of data or contact with the consumer can feel invasive and may ultimately be unwelcome, potentially damaging the fledgling relationship beyond repair.

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At the point of consent, businesses must be transparent about how and when they intend to record data and going forward, they must adhere to this agreement, using individuals’ personal and behavioural information only for the purposes originally stated.

To that end, Wright explained that if a business wants to change the way it processes data, by sharing it with a third party for example, it must ask permission before doing so.

Finally, bosses must respect individuals’ requests to stop using their information.

“In order to establish trust, businesses must make a public commitment to a code of data ethics and hold themselves accountable for any breaches of this code,” said Wright. “An employer that breaches generally accepted data ethics conventions or contravenes their own code of data ethics runs the same reputational risk as if their digital security was compromised.

“Whether done willfully or in error, a business that publishes, shares or uses data beyond the remit originally agreed to by the customer risks losing that customer’s digital trust and may end up losing that customer altogether.”

This was echoed by Striata’s Global IT and security manager, Chantelle van Wyk, who claimed that any business that processes personal information belonging to individuals should commit to a data ethics code at company level – thereafter the code has to be communicated and policed at employee level.

“Instances of companies breaching digital trust are actually very rare,” van Wyk claimed. “Breaches typically occur when an individual or team inadvertently departs from a company’s data ethics code by recording, sharing or publishing customer information beyond the remit that it was gathered under. Employees who have access to customer data must be familiar with the company’s data ethics code and receive training in the appropriate use of the data they handle.

“This should be an ongoing process that forms part of staff performance measurements and data ethics training should take place at least once a year.”

Women’s fashion site Missguided crashed on 14 March – a result of a 50 per cent off sale sending customers wild. However, with transactions unavailable, shoppers were left frustrated and the company’s banter-based updates did little to placate customers.

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