This article on respecting privacy on the internet was written by CEO Dave Murphy and published in the internet.com (http://www.internet.com
) publication WebReference (http://www.webreference.com
).Soccer Teams and Sesame Street
When you register your child for a soccer league, is it reasonable for the team to ask for your name, address and phone? Sure. You like to get a call if a practice is rained out, and the street address list is handy for the occasional carpool, etc...
When you donate money to your local public television station supporting programs like Sesame Street, do you expect your name,
address and phone to be sold to the Democratic National committee? Or, when you open a bank account, do you expect your name to be sold to credit card companies? Heck no!
The point here is to relate these examples to how your Website collects and uses the information from its visitors. Sure, "Privacy Statements" help, but there is no substitute for an honest and open disclosure of what you collect and how it is used. Let's look at three major myths Web companies have today with Web visitor's personal information....Myth #1: If we really told people what we do with their information, we wouldn't get it.
Well, if this is the case, than you surely are doing something wrong! People are reasonable. Build the case for why it benefits them to give information. Tell them what customized features your site can offer if they allow you to serve them. Retail sites can offer e-mail notifications when certain product lines are updated, or when their favorite author or musician comes out with a new book/CD.
If your site utilizes cookies to manage sessions, give a link for interested visitors to see the code that places the cookie on their hard drive with sample data. People do care about what you put on their drive. What may appear innocuous to you and your technical staff is many times a mystery to Web visitors. Explain things in plain language.Myth #2: Get as much information on your visitors as you can, because you don't know what you'll need.
Know what you need, and know when to ask for it. For instance, a small text box and graphic on the top of every page asking a visitor to join your mailing list is a subtle way to build membership in your site. And, if they like what they see on your site, than they'll opt in when they are good and ready.
If you are an e-commerce retailer with a mail catalog and e-mail list, ask for either their home address or their e-mail address. Most Web visitors like to hold on to their mailing address until they give you the order. Asking for personal information too soon is just as bad as asking for too much. If you have a high-end product requiring phone follow-up, ask if they would like someone to follow up with them on a particular product or feature. Don't sneak the phone number out of them and than blister them with calls...
And, most importantly, if you don't need to know something - don't ask for it. You can't be accused of selling something you never had.Myth #3: If we disclose how our site makes money, we'll lose Web visitors.
People aren't stupid. For those interested, you can provide a link to a detailed page showing where your revenues come from. Or, you can give a link to an administrative area that discusses the focus of your site and how your site derives its income. A good example is a non-profit association. Put a pie chart graphic showing income from (in this example)
- magazine sales,
- technical pamphlets, and
- conference fees.
People want to associate themselves with profitable companies who are going to be around next time they click on their "favorites" list. They want to see new features and content, and don't mind "paying" for these things as long as they see the value. Be up front with your returning visitors and you will be rewarded.
In summary, honest and open disclosure of the uses of people's personal information is key. The 5% who get upset when they see this type of disclosure wouldn't have bought anyway. Use plain language keeping the lawyers and MBA types in check. People on the Internet are savvier than the "suits" think, and fancy language equates to "I don't believe what I'm reading." Web visitors have become extremely sarcastic in the last few years, so the job of being "believed" becomes harder every day. Develop a reputation for honesty on your site and guard it dearly.About the author:
Dave Murphy is the CEO of Tecumseh Group, Inc. (http://www.tecumsehgroup.com
) the Internets largest independent forum management company. Their independent technical forums for professionals do not allow any selling or recruiting.