Prioritizing privacy: Good for business

This was originally posted at StaySafeOnline.org in advance of Data Privacy Day.

Data Privacy Day – which arrives in just a week – is a day designed to raise awareness and promote best practices for privacy and data protection. It is a day that looks to the future and recognizes that we can and should do better as an industry. It reminds us that we need to focus on the importance of having the trust of our users.

We seek to build trust so we can collectively create the Web our users want – the Web we all want.

That Web is based on relationships, the same way that the offline world is. When I log in to a social media account, schedule a grocery delivery online or browse the news, I’m relying on those services to respect my data. While companies are innovating their products and services, they need to be innovating on user trust as well, which means designing to address privacy concerns – and making smart choices (early!) about how to manage data.

recent survey by Pew highlights the thought that each user puts into their choices – and the contextual considerations in various scenarios. They concluded that many participants were annoyed and uncertain by how their information was used, and they are choosing not to interact with those services that they don’t trust. This is a clear call to businesses to foster more trust with their users, which starts by making sure that there are people empowered within your company to ask the right questions: what do your users expect? What data do you need to collect? How can you communicate about that data collection? How should you protect their data? Is holding on to data a risk, or should you delete it?

It’s crucial that users are a part of this process – consumers’ data is needed to offer cool, new experiences and a user needs to trust you in order to choose to give you their data. Pro-user innovation can’t happen in a vacuum – the system as it stands today isn’t doing a good job of aligning user interests with business incentives. Good user decisions can be good business decisions, but only if we create thoughtful user-centric products in a way that closes the feedback loop so that positive user experiences are rewarded with better business outcomes.

Not prioritizing privacy in product decisions will impact the bottom line. From the many data breaches over the last few years to increasing evidence of eroding trust in online services, data practices are proving to be the dark horse in the online economy. When a company loses user trust, whether on privacy or anything else, it loses customers and the potential for growth.

Privacy means different things to different people but what’s clear is that people make decisions about the products and services that they use based on how those companies choose to treat their users. Over this time, the Internet ecosystem has evolved, as has its relationship with users – and some aspects of this evolution threaten the trust that lies at the heart of that relationship. Treating a user as a target – whether for an ad, purchase, or service – undermines the trust and relationship that a business may have with a consumer.

The solution is not to abandon the massive value that robust data can bring to users, but rather, to collect and use data leanly, productively and transparently. At Mozilla, we have created a strong set of internal data practices to ensure that data decisions align with our privacy principles. As an industry, we need to keep users at the center of the product vision rather than viewing them as targets of the product – it’s the only way to stay true to consumers and deliver the best, most trusted experiences possible.

Want to hear more about how businesses can build relationships with their users by focusing on trust and privacy? We’re holding events in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco with some of our partners to talk about it. Please join us!