I don’t think many of us could argue that technology hasn’t opened a whole new realm of possibilities for productivity, entertainment, education and information access. For many of us, the seemingly minute chance that our information could be accessed illegally doesn’t keep us from leveraging these technologies. The trade-off is likely tiered based on how much information we’re willing to give versus how much we have to gain. For instance, for some, saving photos to iCloud from the iPhone seems like a generally safe practice and many of us are willing to accept the risk of our personal photos being leaked. If some hacker wants to rifle through my vacation through the Puerto Rican countryside circa 2010, by all means, enjoy the photos! However, as we move into digital transactions, there’s a natural drop off in the number of people willing to share their information with retailers, service providers and financial institutions. This fear somewhat fuels the cache of leveraging payments processors such as Paypal. If your information is vulnerable, at least it’s only vulnerable in one place.

That said, the more information we share online, the more control and knowledge we want over who can see it. Last year, Pew Research released a study, Internet and America Life Project. According to Pew, 50 percent of Internet users were worried about the information available about them online, up from 33 percent in 2009. While 86 percent had tried at least one technique to hide their activity online or avoid being tracked, 59 percent did not believe it was possible to be completely anonymous.

Eleven percent of Internet users said important personal information had been stolen online, such as their Social Security number or bank account information, according to the study, and 21 percent said an email or social networking account had been compromised or commandeered. These findings came before disclosures of massive credit card data breaches at Target, Home Depot and other retailers. There could very well be an even larger population of leery consumers out there now.

Companies can help consumers develop a comfort level with their digital offerings if they continue to be communicative and transparent about how consumer information is stored, what information is stored and if/when that information becomes vulnerable. Should a vulnerability become evident, the more thorough the information shared with those affected, the better. In the meantime, companies should consider regular communications with customers regarding the most effective ways they can protect their information through online tips, Twitter reminders, blog posts on best practices in protecting your data and up-to-date information on any privacy or security changes.

Many of us are willing to take on some level of risk for the sake of convenience. The companies that partner with us to help us navigate this ongoing risk/reward decision process will be the ones that ultimately succeed in this crowded digital marketplace.

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