Putting Your Privacy Policy Front-and-Center

The April 23 New York Times article about Uber CEO Travis Kalanick kicked off a lot of chatter about the ride-sharing giant’s corporate behavior. But Uber wasn’t the only company that found itself in the spotlight: the piece also suggested that unroll.me, a free service that helps customers painlessly unsubscribe from email lists, had sold “anonymized data” from Lyft receipts to Uber, as part of the latter’s competitive intelligence.

That irritated a lot of unroll.me users who claimed to have no idea how the company used their data, and it forced the CEO, Jojo Hedaya, to issue a very public apology. “It was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service,” he wrote. “And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.”

Some pundits weren’t buying that explanation. “Give me an [expletive] break,” John Gruber wrote on Daring Fireball. “They’re not ‘heartbroken’ because their users are upset. They’re in damage-control mode because they were operating under the radar and now they’ve been revealed, very publicly, as the [expletive] that they are.”

As one might expect, customers are concerned about their data privacy, as well. Gigya, which runs a customer identity and access management platform, recently issued a survey in which it asked some 4,000 adults in the United States and the United Kingdom about brands’ approach to data privacy. Some 68 percent of those surveyed expressed concern over how companies used their data.

If that wasn’t clear enough, 31 percent of respondents felt that brand privacy policies had weakened over the past year or so. (More than two-thirds expressed particular concern over the security and privacy of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which is interesting, as that’s expected to eventually become a burgeoning category.)

What does this mean for startup mavens and developers? The usual practice of squishing your software’s privacy policies into the tiny font of the Terms of Service is no longer recommended. Bringing those policies front-and-center—and giving users control over what data they choose to share, and with whom—is key to maintaining trust. And without that trust, a brand simply can’t survive, no matter how it earns its revenue.