Within e-commerce and social media marketing circles, “privacy” seems to be the new watchword ... and I doubt it's going to go away any time soon.
Customers have long shown that sites like Amazon, which remember them and make appropriate suggestions based on their profiles and order histories, are appreciated and can be more profitable than simple straightforward storefronts.
But, on the other hand, consumers are pushing back hard against anything that they consider to be unauthorized, or unwarranted sharing of their information.
This can be seen in the unveiling of Facebook's new, detailed privacy settings, which have come after years of outcry in protest from consumer groups. Those follow similar concerns leveled at companies like Apple and Google, whom certain buyers feel are sharing too much of their personal information—or aren't doing enough to protect it.
For the world's biggest companies, these are headaches that have to be dealt with. For smaller businesses, however, they are even bigger warnings.
That's because, even though you might not have the ability to share information about your customers with billions of people at a time, you also probably can't afford the lawsuits or negative public relations that would come with a backlash over customer privacy concerns.
And so, if you pay attention to the online business media, the message is clear: It’s OK to keep and use some info about your customers, but don’t share, sell, or post it in public without permission, because it could cost you heavily later.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution and keep details to yourself. There's very little to be gained from spreading information about your customers, or even other companies, over the Internet, and very much to be lost.
Over the next few years, it's a virtual certainty that a handful of small businesses will disappear because they haven't been discreet enough about buyer information. Respecting people's privacy is the best way to make sure your company doesn't become one of them.