As a business operating in the 21st century online world, you have a responsibility to protect your customers. Like it or not, that means safeguarding their personal information and keeping it out of harm’s way. A failure to do so is both illegal and unethical.
Ultimately, your company’s long-term success is dependent on your ability to fulfill this obligation. The question is, where do you start?
The Importance of Protecting Customer Data
It doesn’t matter if you run an ecommerce website selling t-shirts, a software company, or a consulting service, you’re ultimately in the data business. You’re collecting personally identifiable information at every turn and it’s your responsibility to keep it safe.
Personally identifiable information, also known as PII, is legal terminology for any data that gives another individual essential clues about that person’s identity. When this information lands in the wrong hands, it can have disastrous effects. And if you’re the one who intentionally or unintentionally allows this information to get in the wrong hands, you can be held accountable.
PII requires very strict handling and storing protocols, especially when it’s highly sensitive PII. In the United States, there are multiple guidelines and regulations on which information must be protected, how it must be protected, etc. This includes guidelines like The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GBLA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and others.
Companies that don’t do a satisfactory job of protecting their customers’ data can end up in hot water. And you don’t have to look very far to see examples of this in action. Major names like Target, Microsoft, Estee Lauder, and MGM Resorts have all experienced high-profile data breaches over the past few years.
But these threats aren’t exclusively reserved for big companies. They can just as easily cripple smaller organizations that lack the financial resources to sustain serious or prolonged attacks.
5 Tips for Protecting Customer Data
Protecting your customers’ data must be a major priority for your organization moving forward. Here are several tips you can use:
Social media websites like Facebook and Instagram are some of the largest data aggregators in the world. And yet they consistently receive some of the lowest trust ratings of any companies.
This is largely due to the fact that they’ve historically misled users about the data they collect and store (as well as how it’s protected and used). Doctors, on the other hand, have some of the highest trust ratings. This is due to the fact that they often have very transparent data policies.
If you want to increase trust with your customers (and protect your business), develop crystal clear privacy policies. Don’t try to hide anything – put it all out there.
- Create a Data Privacy Framework
A good data privacy framework classifies your PII, assesses your PII, creates the right compliance environment, and implements security controls. A tool like Box can help you safeguard your PII in a cost-effective way.
- Verify (Don’t Store)
Whenever possible, you should verify private data instead of storing it. While there’s certain data that you need on hand (like names and addresses), information like Social Security numbers or credit card details don’t need to be stored. If you do store this information, you instantly become responsible for it. Your data privacy framework should proactively address the issue of what information is verified and which information is stored.
- Train Employees
Your employees are your weakest link. The majority of data breaches actually stem from carelessness and oversight. If you want to reduce this risk, it starts with consistent and thorough employee training. Your employees must be equipped with both the knowledge and tools needed to evade security threats.
- Use Common Sense
At the end of the day, common sense goes a long way toward protecting customer data (and your business). If you ever find yourself in a situation where there’s a debate about whether you should or should not do something with sensitive data, it typically means you should not. A common sense approach might seem conservative, but it will take you far.
Keep Your Customers Safe
Keeping your customers safe has to be your top priority. And as much of a pain as it can be at times, this means safeguarding their personally identifiable information. Hopefully, this article has given you some practical ideas and strategies to put into action. However, make sure you’re constantly updating your approach. As threats evolve and technology improves, so do security best practices.