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TIPS TO PROTECT ONLINE PRIVACY AND SECURITY WHILE BUILDING CONSUMER TRUST

Source: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

Posted on March 4, 2000

      In response to growing concerns from online shoppers about security and privacy protection, and in light of recent high profile breeches of public trust at several brand name Web sites, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offers several tips to Web merchants to help them build consumer trust and confidence.

      "Our research indicates that Internet shoppers are looking beyond benefits such as quality and price to how orders are processed and the amount of control and consumer redress they have with the Web sites they are doing business," says Anthony Pugliese, Director of Assurance Services of the AICPA. "Consumers are looking for better ways to research and buy online, all the while requiring a reasonable amount of assurance and trust that the sites are safe and secure and that their information is kept private. In addition, consumers are looking for independent verification from a trusted third party such as CAs and CPAs to provide assurance that these controls are happening."

      The AICPA offers these tips to e-commerce Web sites to help them build the trust necessary for e-commerce to reach its full potential:

  1. Maintain High Level of Security: E-commerce sites must use the most reliable security controls and tools and communicate that they are doing so to their customers in easy-to-understand language. This includes utilizing the latest SSL encryption technology, digital certificates, secure server technology, and authentication to ensure that personal customer information is secure. The site should be independently verified to ensure that its security controls adequately protect the site and customers from risk of security breeches.

  2. Build Online Credibility and Legitimacy: Brand names are important on the Internet. They help shoppers sort out choices when they have a limited range of clues as to product quality and functionality. A familiar name with a positive, established record of performance goes a long way toward building trust as long as the site continues to deliver consistent, top-notch service. If an e-commerce site lacks its own recognizable consumer brand name, it can: sell branded products from other manufacturers; partner with an established brand; offer samples of its services through low-risk trials and creative offers; or use a CA or CPA to independent verify that it is a legitimate business. Whichever strategy is used, it is important to be consistent and adhere to a higher set of standards so that customers can trust the site.

  3. Maintain High Standards of Integrity with Transactions: Great security and brand names only go so far towards building public trust. Web sites also have to maintain a high degree of integrity with every transaction, and they should be independently tested for compliance against a stringent set of standards. Online shoppers expect to place orders and receive merchandise efficiently and with minimal hassle. Many Web sites lose sales when buyers have to fight to complete a transaction. Nothing alienates shoppers more often than when order entry mistakes cause the loss of entered information, computer freezes or bouncing off the site.

    A site's lack of full disclosure regarding actual costs is also a big turn-off to consumers. Online shoppers want to know associated costs before going through detailed registration in order to avoid surprise and significant changes to the online price. Trustworthy sites will clearly explain all costs and have an infrastructure in place that delivers the correct product to the right buyer at the agreed-upon price and in a timely manner.

    An order tracking system that allows online shoppers to review orders and/or maintain addresses and credit card information is also very helpful in building trust in a site. In addition, a CA or CPA can be used to independently verify that the costs disclosed are accurate, and that the infrastructure of the business is in place to process the order properly.

  4. Fully Disclose Policies; Make the Site Easy to Navigate: Online shoppers want to know how a site will handle their personal information. Some customers are not willing to buy online without the assurance from independent third parties that their confidential information will be protected. Independent verification from a CA or CPA that consumer privacy information is protected and not share with other parties can go a long way in building customer trust and confidence to shop on the site.

    In addition, web merchants must explain how they collect and handle consumer information and post easy-to-read privacy statements. The design and content of a site are also critical elements in attracting potential customers. A site that is clear and easy to navigate can create a friendly setting that shoppers find appealing.

  5. Support Online Consumer-to-Consumer Dialogue: E-commerce sites can build additional trust when they encourage their customers to contact and inform each other about the site's products and services. For example, a chat group hosted by the e-commerce site allows its customers to question each other about their purchasing experiences. The online business can also provide links to other independent sites that allow customers to provide feedback and ratings about their purchasing experiences.

  6. Empower Consumers To Take Control of Decisions: Online shoppers will trust a site when they know that they control access to their personal information. Web sites that ask permission of their customers to obtain personal details are taking the smartest approach. Some companies, for example, discuss the benefits provided by cookies on a user's hard drive (the cookie ensures that preferred settings appear without the customer logging in each time), then asks the user for permission to place a cookie. The online shopper is fully informed and empowered to make the decision of whether or not to allow the cookie onto the hard drive.

Many e-commerce sites are beginning to ask consumers to serve on panels that independently audit their privacy policies, integrity of their transactions and fulfillment records. Still others are turning to independent, well-respected third parties who can audit and verify the site's activities. These trusted third parties are often CAs or CPAs who have the training and credibility to provide reasonable assurance to consumers that a Web site is safe, secure and legitimate. A licensed CA or CPA awards a WebTrust seal of assurance to a Web site that meets stringent WebTrust Principles and Criteria for e-commerce.


Special Note From the E-CommerceALERT Team:
Visit PrivaTrust.com to download the PrivaTimes pdf file. The Inaugural Edition contains the lead article: "Privacy Comes Out Of The Closet".




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