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Last week, June 17th to be exact, the hacktivist group Anonymous took down the Canadian government’s servers, shutting down the whole government’s online presence. The attack came in response to the Bill C-51, which passed the House of Commons and the Senate earlier this year. Some have called the bill a new Canadian version of the Patriot Act and it has raised the question about how much information the various Canadian security services will be mining online.

354% Increase Since 2013

On June 5th 2013, The Guardian released its first article on what would become the NSA surveillance scandal. As the news unfolded a small search engine, DuckDuckGo, saw an upswing in traffic. In fact, a year after publication DuckDuckGo experienced a 166.96% increase in queries per day. That was 2014. Looking at data from this week, the search engine is sitting at ~7 million queries per day, a 350% growth compared to the day of the The Guardian article.

Date Direct Search Queries Per Day Growth Compared To 2013
2012/06/05 707,695.24 -0.54%
2013/06/05 1,556,233.55 0.0%
2014/06/05 4,154,466.21 166.96%
2015/06/19 7,078,734.96 354.86%
Source: DuckDuckGo Direct Queries 

DuckDuckGo sells itself as a search engine that doesn’t track search data and while correlation does not equal causation, the coincidence is strong with this one. We’ve talked about DuckDuckGo before, but only as a comparison to Google’s ability to return accurate results. Instead, because privacy is in the news and on my mind, I think the growth of DuckDuckGo signals a shifting trend: that more internet users are looking for privacy.

Part of the issue is down to consumers being over-trusting. Hands up if you’ve been more annoyed because you have to scroll through the terms and conditions before you can press “accept”, than say, having to accept giving up your personal information just to have an iTunes account? Most people don’t spend too much time thinking about the consequences of clicking that accept button. But I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to ignore privacy concerns. In fact, I suspect that the businesses that take up that mantle will see some interesting results.

Three Ways You Can Help Ensure Customer Privacy

Show and Tell

Simply put, don’t hide anything. Tell your customers what you are doing with their data. And If you track their purchasing history, tell them that too. On all of your online forms, have a small line saying that you promise not to spam or send any unsolicited emails. That’s just a small example, but steps like that are what customers appreciate.

Don’t Default Them into Lists

Email marketing is a great way to connect with customers. However, it’s also tailor-made to annoy customers who don’t want any of it. When someone signs up for your newsletter, they’re interested in your business and products. When someone doesn’t, you might as well be sending spam for all the good it does. Plus who wants to talk to a group of disinterested people? Why not let them choose whether to be in your marketing lists? At least those who opted in are interested.

Don’t Sell Their Information

Just don’t do it. No one really likes telemarketers. Yes, they are doing a job, but it’s how that information found its way onto their desks that is the real problem.

Don’t Be Evil

Tracking customers as if they are tiny social experiments isn’t just unethical, it’s plain creepy. Take the Facebook controversy from a few years ago. The once avant-garde social media website (now platform for Buzzfeed quizzes and lunch-time status updates) was selectively showing different users updates that were either positive or negative. The intent was to measure how such news affected the user, whether negative news from friends made you happy or whether positive news depressed you.

This experiment is exactly what widespread mining breeds. When there are no rules then of course, we’re going to start using the data we’re collecting to see how our customers react and behave.

Instead, when you are open and honest with your customers, explain why you need their email, what you intend to do with it, how you’ll contact them, and then reassure them that you won’t sell it for a quick buck. More often than not, they’ll be okay giving over some personal information if they know what it’s for.

If you’d like to learn more about online privacy, here’s our earlier post on the subject. Also, if you weren’t aware, respecting your customers’ right to privacy is part of any great reputation marketing strategy , to learn more about online reputation marketing here’s our latest post about generating positive reviews online.

What do you think? Is privacy important to your customers? If so how do you go about respecting it? Leave a comment below