It’s no secret that today’s websites and mobile applications suffer from security vulnerabilities and quality issues. As of July, roughly 56% of desktop and mobile users across multiple industries are affected by at least one third-party vulnerability. Meanwhile, mobile apps are regularly implicated in data-stealing schemes, mass credential theft, misinformation spread and worse. As key channels for communication and commerce, digital assets require more thorough executive oversight. Organizations that fail to prioritize digital trust and safety are failing in their ethical responsibility to consumers. As they increasingly depend on digital channels to connect with their markets, they are also devaluing their brand and missing out on strategic benefits over the long-term.
In this article, I’ll explain what those benefits are. But first, we need to talk about the factors behind low brand trust and how they impact the world we live in.
The Reason For Low Brand Trust
Today, consumers are beginning their relationship with brands from a position of skepticism and concern. According to a recent report from Havas Media Group, only 36% of respondents believe that companies are making the world a better place—even fewer believe brands are transparent with their promises and commitments.
While the reasons behind low brand trust are complex and multifaceted, the following issues are major factors.
- Anyone can publish and promote: In the digital age, having a website or app doesn’t necessarily mean anything, even if it’s high quality. Trendy startups appear and disappear overnight. Seemingly trustworthy sources publish disinformation, and false stories can trend for days on social media before they are retracted. Without a way to cut through the noise, consumers don’t know who to trust — so they start by distrusting everyone.
- Cybersecurity risks: Consumers are paying for the cybersecurity mistakes made by corporations. Ransomware continues to affect consumers, businesses, critical infrastructure and government entities, costing them millions of dollars. In 2021, more than 22 billion personal records were exposed in data breaches, with the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating credit card fraud and phishing attacks. All of this has left consumers more worried than ever about the privacy of their sensitive data.
- Quality issues: Consumers judge the quality of a business by its UX elements for a good reason: Low-quality ads, popups and slow-loading pages are all signs that a website is not trustworthy. Nobody is at the driver’s seat, and nobody is looking out for the end user.
- Unsupervised code is unsafe: Websites and mobile apps rely on third parties to provide rich features like shopping carts, online payment, advertising, AI-based chat and customer support. But third-party code is rarely monitored for safety as today’s security tools lack the necessary insight. The result is enterprise digital assets are manipulated into channels that enable credit card skimming attacks, malicious advertising (malvertising), targeted ransomware delivery and worse. As this activity continues to rise, consumers feel increasingly less safe using their favorite platforms.
The Consequences Of Irresponsibility
Ultimately, consumers are demanding more from the companies that wield power over their lives and favor businesses that make a credible commitment to their safety and well-being. Seventy percent of consumers around the globe report that they are more likely to buy from a brand they trust and abandon those they don’t. But what are the consequences of violating that trust?
Reduced Confidence In Media
In 2022, confidence in media is almost as low as it has ever been, with only 29% of Americans reporting a “fair amount” of trust in traditional media sources last year. While there are many reasons for this, the barrage of polarizing and contradictory messages Americans receive whenever they go online undoubtedly plays a part, exacerbated by unmonitored content recommendation algorithms and programmatic channels.
Abuse of digital channels leads to political destabilization and the breakdown of democracy in more ways than one. During the Covid-19 pandemic, cyber actors used targeted advertising to promote fraudulent health products and spread conspiracy theories; some even created fake government websites to sow chaos in the midst of an emergency. Meanwhile, foreign actors have long used microtargeting to reach Americans, increase political division and manipulate elections.
Exploitation Of The Vulnerable
In the end, the most egregious consequence of an uncontrolled digital ecosystem may be the impact it has on vulnerable groups. Demographics with low digital literacy such as the elderly are disproportionately impacted by misinformation and fraudsters seeking to empty their bank accounts. Children are exposed to inappropriate media and advertisements that may impact their mental health. Minority populations are affected by microtargeting, geofencing and other predatory practices.
Strategic Benefits Of Digital Trust and Safety Initiatives
Companies have an ethical responsibility to ensure their apps and websites don’t cause harm to anyone—consumers, employees, partners, etc. And in the end, your ability to prioritize digital trust and safety is better for businesses from a long-term, strategic point of view. Advantages include:
- Increased brand equity and resilience: Brand equity is an organization’s most valuable intangible asset. Better digital safety means improved reputation over the long-term, translating to higher revenue, faster growth and quicker recovery in the face of adverse events (resilience).
- Better digital experiences: Lack of digital safety often leads to reduced user experience (UX). Pages load slower when they are laden with unnecessary code and malicious or spammy content, and 50% of users will click away if they have to wait more than six seconds.
- Better compliance: Businesses increasingly can’t afford data breaches or the expense of violating emerging data privacy legislation in the U.S or around the world. Taking responsibility for digital safety eliminates third parties who harvest and use data irresponsibly, reducing the risk of fines and leaks.
- Preserving the digital ecosystem: Ultimately, organizations depend on the long-term existence of the Web to communicate with customers and reach new prospects. Taking responsibility for digital safety helps to maintain a valuable asset that will pay dividends for years to come.
Digital safety is a converging point, where the best interests of businesses and consumers are fully aligned. Putting the safety of customers first protects against risks to revenue, longevity and long-term resilience.