Friday, May 30, 2014

Regarding confidentiality of customer information


I thought it prudent to write about an issue that has been in my thoughts a lot lately.

As many of you are aware, I also own a Lawn Maintenance and Handyman business. Copper and I quite frequently purchase materials for business related projects at the Lowe's store in Fayetteville, GA. 

Lowe's has recently partnered with Porch.com. Porch.com is a marketing service. The electronic service that they provide is intended to match homeowners that are looking for home improvement contractors with contractors in the area that can do the work. It is similar to Yelp.com. 

I found some of their marketing material at the Lowe's contractor desk and decided to create a profile on Porch.com for the Handyman business.

I like some things about Porch.com. The contractor can put up pictures of projects and provide a lot of information on the type of services that they provide.

However, there is one thing for which my gut feel, so to speak, was not good at all:

Porch provides a mechanism for new homeowners to discover who has worked at the address of their home. Part of this information is obtained by Porch through public record searches (i.e. building permits, etc.) I do not really have a problem with this because this is public information and can be obtained by anyone. However, Porch, very strongly encourages contractors to give them lots of information about jobs they have done, Much of the information they request is customer information that I consider confidential. They want to know how much I charged a customer for a particular job (like the projects that I post). They want to know the exact street address of the job (supposedly for the address search feature I mentioned). They do not want the customer name ( if they have the other information, I maintain that the name is easy to obtain).

In his gospel, Luke records the words of Jesus, " Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Sometimes we call this the golden rule. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Well, friends, I have to tell you, if I do business with you, I really do not want you telling strangers where I live and how much I paid you for the job. As the old folks that I grew up around used to say, "It just ain't none of their business".

It might be kind of cool to find out who, in the past, did work at a house I just bought. It might be cool to find out how much the previous owners paid for a repair. However, if they wanted me to know they would have told me. I could have asked before I bought the house. And, just because a particular contractor worked at an address in the past, does not really mean that this contractor will be a good choice for a future job. It does not even mean that the contractor did the work properly the first time.

A Porch representative contacted me by phone and very strongly suggested that I disclose this sort of information about my customers. I never intended to disclose any of this information. I have a very strong information security background from my previous career as a computer network security consultant, I was curious, so I asked for documentation detailing the internal controls, if any, that Porch implements to secure the potential vulnerability of this sensitive data. This should be in their internal data security policies and procedures. I was promised this information. What I got was names of contractors who have disclosed customer information to Porch. Porch wants me to contact these contractors for testimonials regarding how great it is to disclose sensitive customer information to a marketing company like Porch. Well.... No Thanks.

So, I strongly suggest that you, as a consumer, insist that personally identifiable information about your deal with your contractor remain confidential. I often use pictures and/or descriptions of the work that I do for customers as a marketing tool. Sometimes, I will give a broad description of the geographical area of the work, i.e. North Fayette County, GA.  However, I never disclose the customers name, address, nor any details of the deal (i.e. cost, time to complete, etc.) I am proud of my work but, your confidentiality is important to me as well!

I realize that this does not really apply directly to Dog Training. However, it does give you some idea of my position regarding business ethics and I thought it important to include here.

-Till Next Time

William