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Do Our Customers Care About Privacy?

A growing segment of customers are looking to prioritize privacy — are you ready?


Privacy. What a buzzword! Companies from Facebook to Google are getting grilled by Congress about their efforts to protect their customers and safeguard data. But, when the rubber meets the road, do our customers truly care enough about their privacy to spend more or make different product choices? The custom installation (CI) channel is in a unique position to find out.

Ignorance Is Bliss
I’ve been in the IT world for 23 years and the CI channel for 17. The more time I spend around technology, sometimes the less I feel like I truly understand it. Privacy policies are a good example. My assumption is that when something is “free,” I’m the product. That perspective has stood me in good stead as I’ve evaluated social networks, email, and other cloud services that may or may not sell my data. If I pay them a subscription fee, I have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If I don’t I understand, it’s the Wild West and assume any comment, photo, or “like” could be read back to me later or used to sell me products and services. As I stated, that’s been my assumption.

Have you ever tried reading Facebook or Google’s privacy policy? They’re long and confusing. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to clearly understand what they can and can’t do with your data. That’s by design. What scares me is that if I don’t clearly understand what Facebook, Netflix, Google, and Amazon are doing with my data, what do our customers think? My anecdotal research shows me most of our clients understand that anything they post online can be used for myriad purposes, but it doesn’t seem to matter if that surrender of privacy gets something in return such as connectivity with friends, an easy shopping experience, or personalized entertainment recommendations. These are the same customers who would freak out if they thought their security system usage patterns were being accessed by a third party. As far as I can tell, if a company produces shiny functionality, consumers will knowingly or unknowingly trade away their privacy at the drop of a hat.

Also by Henry Clifford: Do Your Customers Know What’s Next?

Empowering Our Customers
Last week I sat down to dinner with my wife at a local restaurant and I glanced at the menu. I’d been looking forward to a Reuben sandwich all day, and paged through to find it. Right next to the menu listing I noticed “1080 calories” printed in bold black letters. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t knowingly order a meal with that many calories. Instead of being appreciative for the heads up, I felt frustrated at the restaurant for giving me the information. I would’ve liked the opportunity to blindly order my Reuben and carrot cake (1800 calories) in peace. Why was I frustrated? Isn’t it good to have all the information at my disposal? I guess that depends if you ask the head or the heart….

Before the days or calorie charts in restaurants, interest payoff illustrations, nutrition labels on our food, or other federally required disclosures, we operated in a world where businesses could easily lie or deceive us without much recourse. Are we better off in a world where they have to play fair? Absolutely. Is it time for us to better understand how companies treat our personal information? You bet.

Also by Henry Clifford: Allowing Pets in the Workplace

Report Card
If we can’t make personal data safety easy to understand, it’s not worth the effort. Before you go and start making your tinfoil hat, I want to be clear: I’m talking about catering to a customer segment who’s willing to pay more to protect their personal data and don’t like trading their privacy to cloud services for convenience. This customer segment appears to be growing. Just last month, Apple’s keynote spent a good deal of time focusing on the fact that it doesn’t sell customer data.

A good first step might be to review your own privacy policy (you do have a privacy policy, right?). If you don’t, no big deal. Sites like this one have templates galore. I’ll fess up. We don’t do a very good job communicating our privacy policy to our customers. No one asks. While we’re early on in this privacy conversation, we’d all do well to proactively address how we treat customer data in our own companies.

I’d love to see a rating system introduced similar to the credit score or USDA meat rating system. I’m not saying consumers will behave any differently after they are empowered with knowledge, but they won’t be able to say they didn’t know any better.

What do we do when we encounter the privacy-minded client? We’ll talk about our own privacy policy and about solutions that don’t sell their data. Here are a few:

  • Voice assistant: doesn’t sell data and delivers voice home control via it’s Josh Micro home controller. It’s a great alternative for clients who don’t want Google Home or Amazon Alexa in their homes.
  • Photo storage: Synology network-attached storage drives or iCloud both promise to safely store your images and videos without selling personal data. Synology makes its money on hardware, while Apple charges a monthly subscription based on total storage needed.
  • Video entertainment: Kaleidescape or Apple deliver movie offerings that don’t sell your data.

I’m not looking to start a revolution; just interested in being better able to serve a customer segment we’re starting to see more and more of. If we can educate ourselves and some of our other clients along the way, the more the merrier!

What are you doing to safeguard personal data and cater to privacy-oriented clients in your company?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.

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