Every day brings another story about an online trader, financial institution, telco or individual being hacked or defrauded. Security breaches are becoming as common as sunrise and sunset, and almost as regular. At a time in history where going digital is deemed to be a survival tactic for businesses and people alike, it is more than mildly concerning that our online security is not seemingly able to keep up defenses.
It’s not for want of trying – we are actually trying too hard. If, like me, you have become paranoid about your personal details and passwords being hacked from not-so-careful websites, you will have a different password for every site you access. In my case, the number of unique passwords exceeds 600 – yes, 600! I rely on a password manager to keep going and heaven help me if that ever gets hacked!
Then one has to navigate the hundreds of different security measures that online sites have implemented. The online banks I use for business and personal use have a myriad of techniques – security tokens (all with different modes of operation), OTP (one time passwords) sent by SMS, jumbled on-screen keypads, biometric systems involving face and hand photos and even simple four or six-digit PIN numbers.
Using a credit or debit card often involves an interception by your bank asking for birth date, mother’s maiden name, three-digit code on back of card, etc – all easily accessible to a potential fraudster that happens to have your card details from use at a retail outlet and supplemented by your social network activities.
Now we also have to manage two-stage authentication that adds yet another level of involvement that is making the simplest of online transactions even more time-consuming and complicated. It’s fast getting to the point where people simply won’t bother to deal with sites that are not secure and, equally concerning, with sites that are so anal about security it will make the experience unbearable.
For many, using their Facebook or LinkedIn credentials to log on to sites is preferable to having unique logins, but what happens if they, too, get compromised in future? Based on our experiences to date with super sites like Yahoo, it’s bound to happen eventually.
It’s perfectly normal for businesses of all types to want to be pure digital players for many reasons, but mainly to reduce costs by replacing physical locations and branches with virtual ones and reducing staff numbers in call centers by introducing service and chatbots. Machine learning and AI are being touted as the means of keeping these virtual environments up to date and in line with consumer demands and needs but, quite frankly, most don’t come close to talking to another human when a problem needs to be sorted out.
Worse still are the poor attempts to make online transactions simple even when the process is quite complex. Booking travel online often involves multiple sites that are not coordinated. The process also varies dramatically from one carrier to another, and quite often you get to the payment page without confirming seats or meal choices or you discover that the quoted price did not include taxes or supplementary fees for using a credit card.
Oh, and good luck if you make a mistake. Going back to make the correction often means going back to the start and the whole process having to be repeated, or you just have to live with it. You wonder sometimes if the executives of these companies have ever used their own sites. Many top execs would be aghast at just how poorly they work, presuming they have enough intelligence themselves to navigate them.
There was a time when senior execs were expected to sit in at call centers to experience the concerns raised by customers, but how many test out their own online operations? Judging from my own personal experiences, very few!
The big test is just how well digital businesses allow you to change, fix or correct things that go wrong. Finding the complaint page or contact number or to get to a real human often requires the customer to have the IQ of Einstein!
So here’s the point. If you take into account all the issues above, how long before normal people, the consumers of this world, get jack of the digital process and decide that doing things in person is a lot more palatable? Will we see the return of travel agents that were able to make complex arrangements for our business and leisure travel with a smile? Will we go back to picking our own fruit and vegetables rather than relying on a packer to pick the best ones for us? Will we start asking why we pay extra for delivery of online goods when one trip the mall comes out ten times cheaper?
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but if we don’t get our digital acts together and adopt some basic common principles, then we risk alienating the very people businesses rely on to survive. As for me, I’m off to the supermarket where the air-conditioning provides relief from the summer heat!