Given the mounting threats online and the concerns that accompany them, Internet companies must pay especially close attention to consumer privacy when building their websites to avoid any backlash – whether from regulators or from the general public.
This was the message delivered by the director of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection David Vladeck. Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this week, Vladeck warned businesses and entrepreneurs that data privacy is a top priority, and organizations should do what they can to ensure they don't overstep their boundaries.
"This is an issue you can't relegate to the back burner," Vladeck said, according to a PCWorld report.
"You need to be sensitive to privacy and data concerns," he added.
Vladeck was joined by Ann Cavoukian, information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, Canada, who, according to an InformationWeek report, urged companies to adopt a "privacy by design" model, as opposed to "privacy by disaster."
Privacy by design essentially entails businesses incorporating privacy into their products. This is a proactive measure that allows companies to thwart data privacy issues before an incident occurs rather than respond to the mess it may cause.
Cavoukian acknowledged that many businesses see privacy controls as an inhibitor, but, according to PCWorld, she argued that this is not the case. In fact, she said, privacy controls promote innovation, enabling companies to give consumers the power to decide what personal identifiable information they want to submit and then responding accordingly.
"Privacy is about control," Cavoukian said, according to InformationWeek. ""The individual should control what happens to the information."
To this, Cavoukian may have a point. One of the most contentious areas involving consumer data privacy today is social media. Facebook, despite supporting more than 800 million users worldwide, has historically been the target of much criticism involving user privacy.
In the early days, a user's information was restricted to people in his or her network. Over time, however, Facebook's data sharing has become more complex, changing many of the default settings to allow a wider audience to view information about a user, and selling certain data to third parties, such as marketers and other websites.
Facebook responded to criticisms with occasional updates that at best seemed half-hearted, or at worst seemed begrudging.
But earlier this year, Google introduced its own social network, Google+, which featured much more extensive privacy controls and threatened to steal users away from Facebook. Early response to Google+ was enormous, as more than 20 million people reportedly signed up for the new social network in its first four weeks, according to comScore.
Soon after the launch of Google+, Facebook issued one of its most sweeping privacy control updates yet. Essentially, the privacy settings put more control in the hands of the user, who can now customize with whom he or she wants to share information. The update also includes a tagging approval option, which enables a user to review and approve any photo or wall post he or she is tagged in before it is published.
Despite the instant popularity of Google+, the mass exodus from Facebook has yet to occur. How much this can be attributed to the privacy control updates is difficult to quantify, but the move was ultimately praised by many of Facebook's users and its critics.
Other web companies can learn from Facebook's actions. As Vladeck and Cavoukian suggested, a company can improve consumer confidence and boost its reputation by demonstrating a respect for user privacy. On the other side of the coin, failure to protect user information can have devastating effects.
Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro