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Lead With Privacy and Customers Will Follow

From high-profile data breaches to increasingly sophisticated tracking systems, the issue of consumer privacy is earning a lot of headlines these days. To better protect their personal privacy, many consumers are taking matters into their own hands. A Forrester Consulting survey, I discussed in a previous blog post, revealed that one-third of consumers polled admitted to using do-not-track tools and ad blockers to protect their online privacy, while another 25 percent have cancelled at least one online transaction after reading the seller's privacy policy.

Consumers aren't necessarily looking for anonymity; what they want is control. Simply put, consumers want to have a say in what kind of data is collected about them, who has access to it and how long it's kept. They especially don't trust companies that sell their personal data. Consumers want to be treated like people — not as just another target.

For communications service providers (CSPs), this is a good thing. A strong and consumer-friendly position on privacy brings CSPs closer to that original goal of data collection: a better relationship with and understanding of their customers. When consumers have confidence that a company is handling their privacy with respect, integrity and openness, they are more likely to give that company something of great value in return: their trust.

In order to become privacy leaders in the data-driven economy, CSPs need to define, communicate and, occasionally, re-approach the way they think about privacy. By following these three steps, CSPs can begin to position themselves as a leader in privacy.

Define (and re-define) privacy ideology.

CSPs need to define their privacy policy and reexamine it periodically. A few years ago customer proprietary network information (CPNI) and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) were the largest worries for disclosure. Fast-forward to today and the world looks very different. On device data, location information, application usage, passwords and identity are clouding the rights and responsibilities CSPs have regarding the customers' data. These are areas that CSPs need to address as technology changes in order to ensure that privacy policies are executed consistently across each department of the business.

Be clear and transparent.

Customers are turned off by privacy policies that are difficult to decipher. When explaining their privacy policies, CSPs should keep the language simple and truthful. Customers expect businesses to collect data about them, but they need to see value in exchange and will walk away from a relationship if they feel it is one sided.

Build privacy into the product design.

It's too late to think about privacy after a service is already designed. Instead, internal privacy experts should be engaged at the beginning of the design process so they can point out potential issues before they become problems.

Privacy leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. If your business is concerned that customers will react negatively to the use of personally identifiable data, there are services and applications (such as Neustar's marketing solutions for CSPs) that deliver actionable but anonymized data at all customer touch points. When CSPs stop seeing privacy as a roadblock and start viewing it as an opportunity for customer relationships, everyone can benefit.

By Gary Zimmerman, Director of Solution Marketing at Neustar

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