What is your greatest fear about the digital age we live in? For many people, it is the fact that so much of their information is stored online. All you have to do is look around the various social media platforms and you will see people posting things that they wouldn’t normally so freely share with strangers. Things like:
- Pictures of their kids
- Pictures of their homes
- Where they went on vacation (and how many they take a year)
Most people even share information alluding to just how much they are worth. This is all information that could potentially put you and your family in danger. However, most people never really think about that kind of thing when they log onto Instagram. They believe that the only way their “personal information” could be compromised is if they get attacked by hackers.
Which is exactly what has happened to some of the biggest brand names in the world to date. Equifax is one such brand name that got hacked and they paid heavily for it.
Equifax Gets Hacked
Back in 2017, Equifax announced that Blackhat hackers had gained access to its servers and that a great deal of their clientele information was compromised. Being one of the leading consumer credit reporting agencies in the U.S, you can only imagine how sensitive the information held by Equifax’s servers can be. The announcement said that the data belonging to over 140 million of their customers was hacked and stolen. We are talking about:
- Social security numbers
- Birth dates
Everything someone would need if their primary objective were identity theft was stolen. 140 million Americans were effectively at risk of their identities being stolen by hackers thanks to the Equifax breach.
As would be expected, this announcement elicited unprecedented uproar from the public. These are people who trust such big companies to do everything in their power to keep such sensitive information safe. People were not only enraged, but they were also very frustrated and frightened by the occurrence.
The Fallout After Equifax Data Breach
A survey by YouGov’s Plan & Track service showed that Equifax’s public perception took a sharp nosedive in the wake of the announcement. In fact, this opinion declined at a faster rate than that of any other company that had suffered such a breach in the recent past. The fallout was so bad that it even affected other credit rating agencies such as TransUnion and Experian even though these other companies were never hacked.
At the time, Equifax’s Buzz Metric (a metric that asks consumers over the age of 18 whether or not they have heard anything positive or negative about a certain brand within the past two weeks) was at -34. Meaning lots of people had only heard negative things about the company.
Things got so bad that even after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle hit the airwaves later, a survey by MagnifyMoney found that 54% of Americans are still more concerned about their data being hacked through Equifax than they are about political parties using Facebook data to manipulate elections.
Public Opinion Towards Equifax is Slowly Being Restored
A year down the line, however, public sentiment towards Equifax is slowly getting restored as more and more people begin to trust the brand again. YouGov’s Buzz Metric shows that Equifax public opinion is hovering around -2 now; almost the same spot it was in before the hacking. This goes to show that fewer and fewer people are saying negative things about the company today.
How Did Equifax Regain Public Trust?
As you would expect, the company started their rebuilding process by cleaning house. Their C.E.O at the time, Richard Smith, stepped aside but not before making an official apology to the public. An apology that was deemed highly ineffective!
Once the new interim C.E.O, Paulino de Rego Barros Jr., took over, the company issued a series of apologies some more. This time, however, they brought gifts. Equifax announced that they had a new offer that would give their customers more control over their data. Here are a few of the things that Equifax did to regain public trust:
- They created a self-service portal: This service allowed customers to lock and unlock access to their data and Equifax files at will. The company promised that the service would be safe, reliable and simple enough to use
- They offered the self-service portal access for free: Equifax even did one better and offered this service for free, for the entirety of the client’s life
- They owned up to their mistake: The new interim C.E.O acknowledged that Equifax had handled the crisis poorly at first and promised to do better. Barros acknowledged that besides being hacked, Equifax did not offer sufficient support to their customers afterward. Their call centers were jammed with calls, and their website did not respond as it should have; Equifax promised to look into all these things and improve the quality of customer support going forward.
The C.E.O, however, did not mention the fact that Equifax chose to create an entirely new domain “www.equifaxsecurity2017.com” where they could direct customers who wanted to check if their information was safe. This was a massive problem because, at the time, their Twitter handle was also redirecting customers to a phishing site that only compounded to their problems.
Thankfully, however, all these issues were handled in good time, and if there is anything to be learned from this crisis and how Equifax finally regained public trust, it is this:
- Clean up your house starting from the top
- Own your mistakes
- Show people how you are going to fix them
- Give a specific timeline with actionable objectives to correct the issue
That and lots, and lots of PR work. Equifax now is back where it was before the hack as far as public opinion and trust are concerned. The same cannot be said for a vast majority of the other big brand names that have been hacked in the past.