Building Consumer Trust Through Online Privacy

If you use a web site, email newsletter, blog, or any other online public relations tool, protecting and respecting the privacy of your users should be a top priority. Many consumers refuse to provide personal information online, worried that their online information will be shared with third parties or that it may fall into the wrong hands. Here’s what you can do to build consumer trust by ensuring their online privacy.

Review your privacy statements to make sure they reflect your current and anticipated practices. If you aren’t doing what you say you will do, you could be subject to FTC enforcement even if your actions are otherwise legal.

If there’s even a chance you might attract kids under the age of 13 to your web site, you’d better be an expert on COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. More than $100,000 in penalties were levied last year alone against companies that failed to comply with COPPA, and the increased scrutiny should cause you to review your compliance.

How are you handling privacy complaints and inquiries? If they aren’t being answered promptly and appropriately, the next step by a disgruntled user might be a complaint to the FTC.

And if you are using any kind of online marketing or direct e-mail, you’d better be playing by the rules defined by your users. If you don’t know what they expect, you should find out.

The key is to understand the elements of privacy and what is important to internet users and apply best practices to everything you do. It’s the best way to build trust with your customers and stay out of the FTC’s crosshairs. If you don’t have a privacy officer, consider appointing one. Or contract with an expert in the field.

The four basic elements of online privacy are:

1. Notice. Make it easy for consumers to find out what information is being collected and how it will be used.

2. Choice. Let consumers opt-in to provide information–rather than opt-out–and request only the information that is required for that particular transaction.

3. Access. Have a method to allow people to see what information you do have and how it will be used.

4. Security. Make sure the information you do have is appropriately safe and secure.

You don’t want to be in the crosshairs of the media or the FTC thanks to an online privacy breach. Do the right thing by respecting your users’ privacy, and the public relations benefits will outweigh any effort involved in keeping those users safe and secure.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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  1. […] Building Consumer Trust Through Online Privacy:  Ben Silverman, PR Fuel. March 27, 2009, […]

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