Online Business Ethics and Privacy Protection

Online businesses are constantly having to walk a fine line between ethics and privacy protection. From determining what data to collect to choosing how to use it, a single misstep could ruin a business’s reputation.

As everyone has seen, online companies don’t always fall on the ethical side of the line. This puts both consumers and businesses at risk.

Protecting Customer And Business Data

Even though data privacy should be an important business strategy, it’s not always. Businesses collect as much data as possible about website visitors and customers. The fine line comes into play as to how well a business protects this information.

Also, is an online business collecting everything or just what is needed? Finally, does the business make it clear as to what data is collected, how it’s stored, how it’s protected and how long it’s stored? Customers and employees have a right to know this. This is why privacy policies are crucial and they should always be easy to find and understand. Of course, this doesn’t mean businesses always comply, such as with Google when the company illegally collected data on users under the age of 13.

Reporting Issues When Discovered

Online businesses, and businesses in general, are required by law in many countries to report any breaches or hacks to legal authorities. Also, illegal behavior should also be reported to police, such as using social media to issue serious threats.

A push for better privacy protections and transparency for when something does go wrong came to light with the passing of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. Other countries have similar laws in place. The FTC even created a guide to what to do when your business experiences a breach.

This means that the ethical thing to do is to always come forward when user data is mishandled, exposed or stolen. Even if it risks your company’s reputation, hiding issues like this will only make it worse in the end. A great example is Facebook, who was fined for not reporting the Cambridge Analytica breach.

Complying With All Legal Requirements

Customers want privacy and data protection. However, online businesses are sometimes asked to hand over certain data to local or federal law enforcement. It happens often to larger online businesses, such as Google, who even has a FAQ in place concerning how the company complies with data requests. Quartz actually lists how often requests are made and how often Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple comply.

While users might find this intrusive, the truth is law enforcement has a right to user data if they suspect criminal activity. In some cases, handing over data could save a life or many lives.

To stay on the right side of the ethics versus privacy protection line, online businesses must disclose to every user how legal requests are handled.

Not only do online businesses need to keep privacy protection front and center, but remain ethical as well. It’s also up to customers to read all online privacy policies. Businesses, employees and customers should also considered it their ethical responsibility to report unethical data collection and usage and privacy violations.