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Website Reputation Gambling

It takes years of effort and focus to build the reputation for a business. So how long does it take to lose that reputation?

The answer is, of course, "that depends". Reputation can be lost very quickly when something comes to light that conflicts with a core brand value. Brewdog was once the darling of the brewing industry, setting the standard for ethics and environmental protection. However, that work was undone in a matter of days as former staff exposed the toxic working environment within the company. The damage was significant and the company is still trying to recapture former customers who switched brands in disgust.

The Brewdog case was high profile because the toxic environment was squarely conflicted with the public face of the company and its values. The whole point of a brand is trust. Customers trust the value proposition and stay loyal to the brand. When it is obvious that trust has been misplaced buying decisions are changed quickly. However, some brand reputation is lost with any erosion of trust, which is why the likes of Trello, Shopify and The Independent are on the back foot right now.

Deep-Dive Research

A recent paper for Usenix 22 security conference has done a deep dive into tracking services and how they operate. These services, Taboola, Bizable, Hotjar etc. use javascript embedded on customer websites to provide that customer with marketing intelligence about the site. They help target ads for products, provide metrics and replay user sessions to diagnose usability issues. Creepy, but nothing too bad, right? Wrong!

The authors of the paper discovered that, in many instances, the complex javascript embedded on customer sites did some unpleasant things. For example, imagine you're on a form on a site using one of the trackers and you start to fill it in with your email address. You change your mind and decide to move on. You'd be pretty angry to discover that your email address had already been encoded and sent to the tracking company without you clicking submit OR agreeing any terms? That would be a breach of GDPR and all of the fundamentals of modern data privacy. This type of intrusion is what has been happening on 1,844 of the top EU websites and 2,950 of the top US websites.

  • USA Today
  • Trello
  • The Independent
  • Shopify
  • Marriott
  • Newsweek
  • Time
  • Stella McCartney

You may take comfort in the fact that you don't fill in online enquiry forms? The problem is, that in some cases the trackers were on login and registration forms as well. Shocking, right?

Many of the brands themselves were indeed shocked when the researchers shared their findings, and most took swift action to remove the relevant scripts. In some cases the tracking companies themselves changed their scripts.

Is Your Business Reputation At Risk?

One of the major concerns here is with software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies such as Trello. These services encourage users to invite customers into them. In doing that the users have not only given their own details to the trackers, they've also, inadvertently, given their customers' details as well.

That's something to think about the next time someone invites you into a Trello board!

Services like Shopify are used by their customers to build other online services. Are users of those services safe? Who knows? The report doesn't explicitly cover that. And that's the point: service owners don't know whether they are putting their customers' data at risk or not. Therefore, they are gambling with their own reputation.

Defending Yourself - Be Brave

As a user you need to arm yourself with the tools to defeat this type of tracking. One simple way to do this is to switch to a 'default safe' browser such as Brave.

With Brave, the default mode is to block ALL trackers and other intrusive techniques. It's true that some sites are so heavily dependent on this type of stuff that they stop working properly when blocked like this. If that's the case on a site you trust, then 'shields down' and you are back to normal. The benefit is that when you are random browsing or shopping, the big brothers out there cannot be watching you. You regain control.

Defending Your Business

If you use services like Trello or Shopify, how do you protect your business reputation after this research?

You can't, because you don't really know anything about how those services are delivered.

However, there is a simple fix.

Use I-Next services! If you use privately hosted alternatives to some of these big tech platforms like Trello and Shopify you will know exactly what happens to your customers' data, and who has access to it. You can be sure that they are not being tracked without your knowledge.

Own the customer experience on your services and all of the data it generates. Your customers may not thank you but that is because they probably won't even notice.

In Conclusion

Most businesses would not knowingly put their reputation at risk on a day to day basis. However, it is now clear that many may be doing that simply by using convenient online platforms that have underhand tracking technology installed. Even the platform providers may not realise what is happening.

The only way to be sure your reputation isn't being gambled every day is to run your own, private, services where you can be sure that your customer data is secured. The good news is that you are on a website where you can get just that.


Footnotes

  1. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have read the above and done a 'hypocrisy test' to see if I-Next use trackers. You may be enraged to find a piece of tracking javascript from the server https://mautic.i-next.co.uk and something else from https://team.i-next.co.uk.

    Are we hypocrites?

    No. These are our own, private marketing information service (Mautic) and website chat service (RocketChat). All of the data is collected and held on services we own and control. We don't even use services like Google Analytics because we feel it is too intrusive for your use of our website to be tracked.
  2. The preview image is from Stux on Pixabay.

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