January 11, 2001, 7:54 AM — Psychologically speaking, the word secure means "free of worry, doubt or apprehension." Technologically speaking, it means "safe from intrusion or attack." Consumers, however, must be secure in both senses of the word -- at least if they're going to shop on your Web site. Today's online consumers worry about the security and privacy of personal information such as credit card numbers, as well as their buying patterns and preferences. That's why clear customer communication ("talking the talk") and proactive privacy practices ("walking the walk") are both vital to building consumer trust -- and increasing business online. The keys to privacy include the following:
Notice: Post policies and practices on your Web site -- and follow them. Say what you do, and do what you say.
Choice: Offer consumers options before using the information they provide for any purpose other than completing a sale. Make these choices clear, and let consumers know the value of participating fully, such as signing up to receive tailored offers and specials. Make them an offer they can't refuse.
Security: Guard customer information by moving databases and transaction records off Web servers to protected subnetworks and back-end systems. And take steps to prevent hackers from kidnapping information and holding it for ransom. For example, American Express' Private Payment offering allows cardholders to use a one-time card number that is of no use after a sale is completed.
Access: Allow customers to see, as well as update, their accounts online. Also, let them change their choices as they please in their accounts and profiles.
Accountability: There are three options:
- Do it yourself. This is the "trust me" approach. While lesser-known players need to do this carefully, big brands may be able to stop here due to the level of trust their brands have already earned. Nevertheless, everyone needs to abide by the industry standards established by groups like the Online Privacy Alliance and Direct Marketing Association.