Among the several gazillion applications available for purchase in the iPhone App Store (“several gazillion” is either an estimate from a recent Steve Jobs keynote presentation, or I just made it up entirely), I came across one the other day, which piqued my interest. The app is called Sign Me Out. Like most iPhone applications available for sale, this one has a very targeted, limited range of functionality. Its only purpose is to report on whether you are signed onto your Gmail or Facebook account from any number of locations, and then provide the ability to kill those open sessions and sign you out, all from the mobile comfort and convenience of your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. At first blush, I wondered how many people would really feel the need for this, but on further reflection, it seems that this is just one facet of a growing consumer concern for online security.
As more and more of the information that powers our daily lives takes residence in “the cloud”, a growing number of consumers are taking advantage of every opportunity to research, shop, bank and socialize electronically. What has changed in recent years, however, is the number of entry points consumers are now using to gain access to those capabilities. A decade ago, the average consumer handled all of his or her online commerce from a single computer at work or at home. With the proliferation of smart phones, laptops, tablets and public internet access points, the confidence of knowing that an electronic door or window into one’s personal and financial data hasn’t been left open somewhere has become ever more elusive.
A November, 2008 study by MaCorr Research reports:
Though 7 out of 10 consumers are confident that they receive the same standard of service online as they do from similarly sized ‘over-the-counter’ retailers, their biggest concern regarding online retail purchases from smaller operations remains the security of the internet transaction. Nearly half (49%) of online shoppers are concerned about security, with another 34% concerned on the speed of delivery.
While the consequences of risky online purchase behaviors have landed historically at the doorstep of careless consumers themselves, more and more online shoppers will look to merchants to be more proactive in protecting their identities and their personal assets from the pitfalls of their own foibles. Strategies for providing these protections now range from simplistic approaches, like session time-outs, to emerging biometric technologies, such as voice recognition based commerce. Individual online retailers will assess the sophistication of security measures they provide to customers on the basis of their own cost / benefit analyses. However, as select merchants implement and communicate the benefits of ever more sophisticated consumer protections, they are likely to reap competitive advantages with which their peers will have to contend.