Can trust and privacy be a competitive advantage for online companies? Denmark’s government is ready to find out, finally launching its long-evolving digital responsibility seal into an online world where privacy has never been more important.

Over 50 companies are already undergoing certification for the D-Seal, a $4m (18m DKK) initiative of Danish business and consumer authorities first announced in late 2019 to recognise companies with strong data security and privacy practices.

The D-Seal program “is the first label of its kind combining IT security and responsible use of data in the same program,” program director Mikael Jensen said.

“The seal gives companies the possibility to convey digital trust by showing their customers and partners that they are digital[ly] accountable.”

Companies must demonstrate their capabilities across eight domains – spanning IT security, privacy, AI, and data ethics – that were laid down by an advisory board of more than 20 domain experts across IT security, law, privacy, business, AI, transparency, business models, and surveillance capitalism.

Based on a range of recognised international frameworks, the seal is assigned to companies rather than specific products and services.

D-Seal’s self-evaluation tool is free but businesses pay an annual fee for using the seal.

“Responsible data processing and privacy is a Danish position of strength and a key value for Dubex,” Jacob Herbst, CTO at cybersecurity service provider Dubex said as he revealed the company is among those pursuing D-Seal certification.

“There is a growing interest and demand among both European and American customers for privacy and now we have a tool to show it and be concrete. We expect that the seal will be recognised among customers and strengthen our position in an international market.”

Would Australian consumers see the value?

The seal’s requirements around AI ethics make it particularly relevant in a time where consumers are growing concerned about checking widespread and opaque use of data-matching and predictive analytics technologies by governments and Big Tech companies.

Despite early promises by Big Tech and an evolving national AI ethics framework, fully 82 per cent of Australian teenagers responding to a new YouGov survey by Reset Australia said they have been targeted by ads that were so specific to their interests that they felt uncomfortable.

Around 8 in 10 respondents wanted capabilities such as the right to have their data deleted; defaults to the strictest privacy options for under-18s; rules forcing companies limiting the data they collect to just that which is really necessary; and the right to access the data held about them.

Some 71 per cent support rules restricting ‘sticky’ design techniques that use their data to keep them engaged with products and services, while 58 per cent admit having little idea about when and with whom their personal data is being shared.

The results confirm growing discomfort with what Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper called the “unfettered use of their most private and intimate data”.

Young people “understand, perhaps better than most, that their data is used to keep them online for longer or target them with hyper-specific, inappropriate, or harmful content,” Cooper said.

“They want to see meaningful regulation of Big Tech, so they can have greater control over their privacy, including the freedom to truly delete social media profiles and reclaim their data.”

Last year, a Governance Institute of Australia-CSIRO study confirmed that companies with strong data governance strategies were more likely to recognise the reputational risk of poor customer data handling, but methods for assessing data governance were highly subjective.

Similar experiences from e-commerce companies suggest that prominent testimonial marks can improve engagement with consumers whose trust in online companies has been strained by their data practices.

A recent Spanish study of 130 European and Latin American e-commerce companies, for example, found the use of trust seals like BBBOnline, Webtrust, TRUSTe, and Verisign increased Internet sales for more than 66 per cent of the companies and boosts their corporate image.

Trust seals should be displayed on every consumer-facing page, that review found, and be linked to the managing organisation’s website: “assurance seals serve as recognition of the quality that these sellers have achieved,” the study’s authors note, “and sellers use them to seek a better market position.”