Disruptive TechJanuary 7, 2020

Abandoning Privacy for Tech Leaves Gap in Consumer Trust

By SHAMONTIEL VAUGHN | Contributing Writer‍

[RETHINK Retail] — Not all press is good press. And in the case of a few popular Internet security cameras, recent news coverage is making it more difficult to increase sales. Even worse, this bad press may make customers not even bother giving these security features a chance.

One recent example is a hacker who was able to break into Amazon’s Ring security system and spy on an 8-year-old girl. The hacker could hear and see the minor onscreen, telling the girl he was her “best friend,” encouraging her to break a television in her bedroom and even calling her a racial slur.

Another family was hacked and also asked racially charged questions regarding a child in the home. Then a third hacker threatened a family for ransom money. While not all product hackers are this extreme, all of them are making customers uncomfortable.

Hackers have also found weak areas in Amazon Alexa and Google Home. “Smart Spies” hacks can enable eavesdropping, voice phishing and use audio commands to figure out passwords. While some tech products are better than others at staying secure, a big issue for customers is how online retailers are behaving after the damage is done.

 

When disruptive tech disrupts privacy

“The customer is always right.” Some retailers believe David Ogilvy’s quote from the 1964 book “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” Others may beg to differ and choose to believe this is on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, Amazon is taking flack for blaming the customer for the hacker who was able to talk directly to the 8-year-old minor. According to The Washington Post, a Ring representative repeatedly brought up how the Ring customer didn’t set up two-factor authentication for the security camera.

Does that mean every customer who has ever been hacked hasn’t set up two-factor authentication? It’s unclear. But if more families become the victim of hackers, faulty products are usually the source of the issue.

The previously mentioned “Smart Spies” hack is still working two months after both companies found out about the security breaches, reports ThreatPost. And even without video spying or rejecting password changes, voice recognition software has made itself awkward for customers in other odd ways. One homeowner’s conversation regarding furniture was recorded by Amazon Echo, and the audio recording for it ended up being sent to the husband’s employee.

But all of these instances are leaving online retailers pointing the finger at hackers and customer errors. Meanwhile, the customer is pointing the finger right back at online retailers. One group loses money. The other is left feeling violated in their own homes. And no one wins.

So what exactly can both parties do to avoid situations such as these?

 

Playing defense after customer backlash

In the age of social media where customers can air their grievances to the world, online retailers cannot afford to be quiet when customers make private complaints into public concerns. But blaming the customer clearly won’t work to gain new customers and/or make this customer a repeat customer.

So, what should be done? The obvious answer is for online retailers to first investigate weaknesses in their products to confirm that these issues cannot happen again. Secondly, offer to trade the faulty product for an upgraded, “fixed” version. Thirdly, be transparent with new customers about why upgrades have been made so they can choose whether they want to take the risk or not.

Whether it’s regarding food, fashion or technology, today’s customers want far more transparency—especially when they’re purchasing products that by default require them to give up privacy in their own homes.

And some are fighting back even more than just unplugging a product or returning it to Customer Service desks. According to Information Week, consumers aren’t just clicking “Accept” and ignoring multiple pages of Terms of Service agreements from tech products. They’re getting more involved by using safe-browsing options such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Privacy Badger” web browser and Osano’s “Privacy Monitor.”

Privacy Badger blocks invisible trackers, and Privacy Monitor reads the fine print for computer users and provides “attorney-created privacy policy ratings” to keep users protected.

And while software like this may be helpful for casual Internet browsing, this may become a problem for certain software products that need to fully run in order to use the products effectively. But where does that leave the customer? Either the customer can choose to not buy the product and feel more secure at home—even without extra online security products, or it’s up to retailers and manufacturers to improve their inventory before privacy-related issues can ever reach the customer.