Protecting Privacy Is Good for Business

January 25, 2018

Concerns about data security and privacy are deepening as the real estate industry is increasingly being targeted by hackers. As personal and financial information is increasingly transmitted via email and between devices, it’s imperative that real estate professionals protect themselves and their clients from scams or data breaches.

This weekend, on Jan. 28, the National Cyber Security Alliance is observing Data Privacy Day by partnering with leaders in industry, government, and nonprofit sectors to educate businesses about the importance of respecting privacy and protecting personal information.

According to a J.D. Power and Associates survey, 81 percent of Americans feel they have lost control over the way their personal data is collected. “Companies of all sizes and from all industries are continuously collecting enormous amounts of personal data. Consumers want to know how their personal information is collected and protected and with whom it is shared,” said Russ Schrader, the NCSA’s executive director. “In fact, respecting privacy is not only a protective measure, but also a smart strategy for enabling consumer trust and enhancing reputation and growth.”

As the world becomes increasingly connected and the internet continues to expand, think about the abundance of personal information collected on your devices and what could happen if that information is stolen and used in negative ways.

The NCSA has some tips for being more thoughtful concerning information you collect from clients, protecting that data, and fostering trust within your sphere.

  • If you collect it, protect it. Personal information is like money. Create a policy for you, agents on your team, or at your brokerage for taking reasonable security measures to protect individuals’ personal information from inappropriate and unauthorized access. This could include the following steps:
    • Secure your logins. Your usernames and passwords are not enough to protect key accounts like email, banking, and social media, according to the NCSA. Always turn on the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys, or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device. 
    • Keep up with updates. Update your security software, web browser, and operating system to have the best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats. 
    • Be thoughtful with what you share. Consider what you’re posting online and who might see it. Regularly check your privacy and security settings on your social networks.
    • Secure your devices. Every device should be secured by a password or strong authentication—finger swipe, facial recognition, or other technique. These security measures limit access to authorized users only and protect your information if devices are lost or stolen.
    • Think before you app. Information about you, such as the games you like to play, your contacts list, where you shop, and your location, has tremendous value. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and understand how it’s collected through apps.
  • Be open and honest about how you gather, use, and share personal information: Clearly communicate your data-use practices and how you manage customers’ privacy. But don’t count on your privacy policy as your only tool to educate clients. Communicate clearly and often what privacy means to you or your brokerage firm, and the steps you take to achieve and maintain consumer privacy and security.
  • Create a culture that respects data security: Educate agents about their role in privacy, security, and respecting and protecting the personal information of customers.

“Every company must be able to demonstrate how it is protecting data privacy to earn the trust of customers, users, partners and employees. This takes a collaborative, risk-based data privacy practice that aligns with industry best practices, customer demands, and regulatory requirements,” said Michelle Dennedy, vice president and chief privacy officer for Cisco, a partner of the NCSA.

The NCSA has tips on how to check your various privacy settings, safety tips for mobile devices, and a #CyberAware monthly newsletter for families to share online safety news and resources, which you can share with your clients.

Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has created a webpage that has advice to help small business owners protect not only the networks and systems that are the backbone of their business, but also their customers’ sensitive data. The website also includes videos that show steps small-business owners can take to ensure their businesses have secure networks.

—Erica Christoffer, REALTOR® Magazine