9/16/2008
04:14 PM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Commentary

Hiding Breach News Makes A Bad Situation Worse

Retailer Forever 21, tagged by credit card data thieves, is dealing with letting the public know about the breach -- sort of.



Retailer Forever 21, tagged by credit card data thieves, is dealing with letting the public know about the breach -- sort of.Forever 21 was informed by the Department of Justice in early August that a data breach involving close to 99,000 customer credit cards had taken place between 2004 and 2007. The scam was part of the same ring that got a lot more cards and a lot more publicity from hitting TJMaxx.

A month after the DoJ notification, Forever 21 made the news public.

A month? Come on -- if there's one lesson that all businesses should learn from higher profile data breaches it's that there's no virtue -- and plenty of downside -- in delaying acknowledgment.

More than that, acknowledgment needs not only to be prompt, it needs to be prominent.

Take a look at the Forever 21 Web site. See anything acknowledging the problem? Look closer.

There it is, bottom left, near the trademark information (you may have to squint): IMPORTANT CUSTOMER INFO NOTICE (it's far fainter there than here.)

But that's not as faint (or as tiny) as the actual acknowledgment that pops up: (light) gray mousetype in long paragraphs that look (and read!) like they were written by a committee of lawyers. Not the sort of thing to reassure a consumer looking for information about the breach; not, for that mater, the sort of thing that helps the consumer find the information.

Look: if you're breached you need to get out in front of the story immediately, and do so in plain English (preferably from your company's president or CEO) at the head of your Web site, rather than sending the message that you're hiding something in the scrolldown.

It's best not to get breached, but if you do you need to be far more upfront and open than Forever 21 has been.

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