Is it in vain for brands to grow online if users don’t trust them? Brands online are growing, there’s no doubt about that. If you read my last article about e-commerce online you can see how quickly it’s happening. This, tied with social networks and advertisers encouraging brands to talk to people online and develop rapport, can mean a more informed client database that in turn provides bespoke content to a specific person. Awesome right? Who doesn’t want a personal shopper you don’t have to speak to? Then why are so many people hiding themselves online? Why has online security become a rallying call to internet users to fight against brands?

81% of internet users feel like they have little or no control over their online information, and only half of that number felt they could trust European institutions to protect them. Meanwhile, 55% of internet users think it’s important to adopt another persona online and 86% of users remove or mask their digital footprints often.

But what’s causing this inclination to hide? The internet was once a place for anonymity, but not anymore. Now online platforms are mining more and more data that resembles (as closely as possible) real life details, with or without people’s knowledge. The line between online and online life is blurring. As Mark Zuckerberg has reputedly said, “Sharing is better than hiding”. Humans tend to be naturally social, but is data harvesting affecting us on a psychological level we haven’t even begun to understand?

Now, I may be biased on this topic seeing as I’m an advocate for any brand to communicate digitally in
 an exciting and thought provoking way. Everything I design is there (in my head) to help people navigate quicker, avoid repetitive data entry or boast about what they’ve just used to their “oh-so cool” Instagram account. But maybe as a digital designer I’m part of the problem. It’s up to us individually to promote better ethics and new ways of protecting people online.

Brands like Ashley Madison have felt this burn. Since the release of all their 32 million users’ personal info in 2015, there has been an 80% drop in web traffic and a link to multiple suicides. This of course is an extreme case study, but it shows how easy it was to infiltrate the site and affect millions of people who believed they were safe. It’s events like this that make me question the ‘back up” plan; how prepared are brands to handle a colossal SNAFU, and how to you ensure the users can feel safer?

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It’s up to brands and ourselves to keep investing time and money into developing a safer experience without compromising on content and still being able to offer a seamless user journey. I see two ways. One is to raise the profile of a brand so high that people expect to feel safe (*cough* Google *cough*). The other is to be more open about security, build trust through showing a shared value on security, act on it, and talk about it. For example, the fashion brand “The Affair” created a social campaign encouraging people to “Go dark” with a range of “Stealth ware” designed to fight back against hackers and surveillance.

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There has been a growth in services offering internet users the ability to ’cloak’ themselves online. Apps like ‘Secret’ and ‘Cloak’ have been developed to combat the ‘public by default’ thought process less tech savvy users have fallen victim to in our ever growing digital dependency. This latest trend is just another example of how consumers are increasingly protective of their identities online. Brands must either gain regain the trust of users, embrace these more private attitudes, or risk losing ground in the new online landscape.