With the rise of the Internet and social media platforms, the consumers of today spend more time online than in the physical world. They are constantly viewing and sharing various types of content all over the Internet. With every choice that a consumer makes to view or share content, they reveal something about themselves. The digital marketing methods that are used today leverage on such online consumer data along with other personal information to target their marketing content and customise their products.

Some of the critical sets of information that a company handles include- names, addresses, social security numbers, credit card information, customer opinions and background information and account information among others. Understandably, it is extremely important to protect such data against theft and have guidelines in place that prevent its abuse. Any incident of a security breach involving such critical data can not only cause widespread damage to customers but also ruin the reputation of a brand beyond repair.

Companies often employ in-house data processing teams or third-party data services to manage the data handling requirements of such personal data. There are 3 basic steps associated with handling sensitive customer information:

  1. Taking stock of data: Companies need to scrape every digital storage facility, be it computers, servers or flash drives, and take note of all the sensitive information owned by them. Additionally, all the input points of sensitive information should be identified in order to establish tracking features. Every piece of personal information needs to be tracked and properly catalogued. There are certain key parameters involved with the tracking of personal information.
    • The source of the information needs to be clearly identified. Are they retail consumers, credit card companies, pension-holders or job candidates? The information needs to be categorised according to the source.
    • Identifying the channels through which data flows into the company needs to be noted. Subsequently, the channels should be equipped with proper security features in order to make it safe from leaks and malware. Some of the typical channels of communication within companies are emails, chats on official platforms and reports on cloud databases.
    • Ensuring strict access protocols is one of the most important aspects of maintaining the security of consumer data. Only the most trusted staff members should be allowed direct access, that too under surveillance. Access points must have rigorous password protection and encryption of data.
  2. Cutting down on excessive data: There is a myriad of consumer activities over the Internet and personal information associated with it. Companies must identify the exact consumer data that are related to their products or services. Subsequently, their data collection tools should only focus on relevant data points. By cutting down on the amount of consumer data a company handles, it can effectively cut down on damages during the event of a security breach.
  3. Use the latest data protection tools and practices: Employing the right data security measures involve analysing the nature of information and its storage medium. There are four elements of a secure data security proposal- physical assurance, software security, employee awareness and protocols for handling suppliers and clients.
    • Physical assurance involves limiting access to company equipment such as laptops within the office premises, storage of files and electronic storage devices under lock and key, having biometric access features to key areas and camera surveillance within office premises.
    • Software security requires using the most updated versions of all software platforms along with using the latest anti-malware tools. It also includes network security features such as firewall and digital authentication portals.
    • Companies must also provide adequate training to their employees in the best practices of data management and cybersecurity protocols.
    • Lastly, companies should have clear guidelines for communication and data transfer with third-parties such as suppliers, contractors and clients. The transfer of critical information such as product specifications to contractors must only be done via official channels and with proper approvals.

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