Securing your business to build digital trust

Joe Svetlik

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Digital trust is the gateway to repeat business – if customers can trust your brand, they’re almost guaranteed to come back. Losing their trust could be the most costly mistake you’ll ever make. Read on for tips on forging a healthy, transparent relationship with customers to keep them coming back for more.

The currency of the digital economy

Today, more data is available than ever before – indeed, it’s said to be the currency of the digital economy. This brings with it both huge opportunities for enterprises, but even bigger risks.

The opportunities are obvious. With all this data at their disposal, companies are in a unique position to make actionable insights based on their customers’ needs and wants. Never before have firms been able to tweak their business models so minutely to fit around their user base’s whims and desires. The risk is that in a bid to maximise profits and create the most efficient business operation possible, firms could lose sight of ethical concerns and jeopardise the goodwill it’s taken years to build.

In fact, according to a recent Accenture report, 83 per cent of executives agree that trust is the cornerstone of the digital economy.

Take the case of the dating app that wanted to increase the amount of time users spend on it. Having discovered a strange correlation between engagement and ethnic and racial biases, it created a new algorithm that predicted and reinforced these biases. As you can imagine, a furore ensued, and the company’s reputation suffered irreparable damage.

Internal and external threats

Much like trust in any relationship, digital trust takes a long time to build, but only seconds to shatter. As the same Accenture report puts it, it’s the idea that your brand is “reliable, capable, safe, transparent and truthful” in how it operates digitally. You’ll only create it through lots of smooth interactions between your company and a customer. But one serious misjudgement, and your name is mud.

Of course, not every case is as flagrant as the dating app example. But customers are handing over more and more of their data, and they have to trust that the company they’re giving it to will use it in an ethical manner. And that’s before we come to the issue of cybersecurity.

With threats from hackers on the rise, the need for robust defences has never been more pressing. (To start bullet-proofing your business, here are four digital security steps you should take, and tech security trends that should be on your agenda.)

As you can see, the threat is both external and internal. So how do you go about building digital trust? And more importantly, once it’s established, how do you keep it?

Trusted by design

It goes without saying that data should be kept both secure (i.e. you should protect its confidentiality, integrity and availability) and private (with controls satisfying regulatory requirements). There should be additional checks on the ethics of and trust in how the data is collected, manipulated and used. This will require attention at every stage of the data supply chain, and collaboration with every stakeholder. But it’s worth the extra effort, as it will forge a trusting relationship between your enterprise and everyone you deal with.

A handy way of achieving this is with a code of ethics, centred around the use of data. This will help improve transparency for stakeholders, and accountability for governance bodies. Once it has become part of the company’s culture, its data handling procedures will be known as ‘trusted by design’ (i.e. the data’s provenance, integrity and ethical accountability are beyond question).

When collecting data, you should ensure the context of original consent is known and respected, with best practices regularly revisited to minimise the risk of accidental disclosure. For example, data from multiple sources can require a new context for disclosure, and hence you might have to gain consent again. You should only collect the minimum amount of data needed for a specific application and protect the integrity and security of data throughout your networks and supply chains.

Your environment for handling data should be secure, to minimise the risk of a security breach. All data movement and transformation should also be fully auditable, so if there is a leak or breach, you can trace its source. Data moved between networks and cloud service providers should be encrypted, and you should destroy temporary databases that contain aggregated data.

Finally, when it comes to analysing the data, you should gain consent from whoever has disclosed the data for whichever application you’re going to use it. Again, data should be encrypted, and any licence agreements associated with the APIs adhered to. Be particularly wary when streaming data, as once it’s streamed, you no longer have control over it.

Remember, trust is a networked phenomenon: if you don’t trust your partners, why should your customers trust you? Put in place the above recommendations, and encourage companies you work with to do the same. Only then will you build and – crucially – maintain digital trust with your customers.

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