With regard to both business and pleasure, the Internet has made an indelible mark on the way our world works. However, as our online dependency continues to grow, so do data security and privacy threats. But, as popular companies begin to develop monitoring practices that yield responsible management strategies, those that lag behind have the opportunity to learn by example.
The Online Trust Alliance's "2014 Online Trust Audit and Honor Roll" report recognizes those brands that are leading the way when it comes to privacy, security, and transparency measures, underscoring the importance of such protection initiatives, as well as the risks of complacency. The study, which evaluated nearly 800 top consumer websites, analyzes each company's current progress with regard to three major components of trust: domain, brand, and consumer protection; site, server, and infrastructure security; and data protection, privacy, and transparency. Ultimately, this audit emphasizes what constitutes leadership and how those who continuously fail to make the Honor Roll can enhance customer trust.
Twitter received the highest overall trustworthiness score, landing at the top of the Honor Roll for the second consecutive year, while the following companies stand as the top 10 most trustworthy online retailers:
- American Greetings
- Christian Book Distributors
- Sony Electronics
- Big Fish
- JackThreads and Zulily (tie)
The following statistics examine how the brands observed fared overall, highlighting the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the varying sectors, while emphasizing areas in need of improvement:
- Overall, only 30.2 percent of the companies evaluated made the Honor Roll, with news and media organizations receiving the least amount of representation (4 percent). Of the nearly 70 percent that didn't qualify for the Honor Roll, 52.7 percent failed in at least one of the three categories evaluated.
- Of the three major categories observed, 31 percent of leading brands failed to meet domain, brand, and consumer protection standards; 11 percent fell short with regard to site, server, and infrastructure security; and 28 percent missed the mark in terms of data protection, privacy, and transparency.
- While 88 percent of online merchants complied with the OTA's recommended best practices, one-third failed to implement adequate privacy policies, emphasizing the need for improvement.
- Banking and financial institutions continue to see the highest failure rate (65 percent) across all sectors due to inadequate email authentication support and insufficient or vague privacy policies.
- Though social networking, gaming, and dating websites continue to outpace all other segments in terms of average score and percentage on the Honor Roll (50 percent), the social sector also holds the title for highest percentage of websites to experience a data breach within the last year (18 percent).
Key takeaway: Though most companies understand the dangers associated with data collection, many fail to comprehend the true severity. According to the OTA, 823 million customer records were exposed in 2013, of which 89 percent could've been prevented. Thus, 40 percent of the largest data breaches in history occurred last year. Brands that continue to neglect such statistics will ultimately fail to earn both trust and revenue, for they will perpetually lag behind those who are actively working to protect their customers' best interests. Trust stands as the pillar of successful, long-lasting consumer relationships, but every misstep results in another crack at the base of this fragile foundation. Inevitably, without constant attention and repair, customer satisfaction will dwindle and business will cease to exist, for compromised data will cause trust to crumble for good.