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Safeguarding customer information: the role of staff

Ana Isabel Canhoto (Henley Business School, University of Reading, Henley‐on‐Thames, UK)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 30 October 2009




Privacy is a topic of major interest to the marketing community that has fuelled the development of legal and technical mechanisms to protect customers' anonymity and to prevent the misuse of customer data. Nevertheless, data breaches continue to occur. The purpose of this paper is to offer new insight into the causes of such breaches, thus paving the way for novel approaches to privacy protection.


The paper presents a semiotic framework identifying the data, task related and normative factors that influence behaviour. A qualitative study with branch and back office employees in a British financial institution illustrates the explanatory value of the framework.


The results show that the legal tools provide guidance only when they are clear, relevant and enforceable, that technology reduces idiosyncrasy but has limited application and, crucially, that employees' attitudes, group norms, preconceptions and mental processes dramatically condition behaviour.

Research limitations/implications

The study integrates the limited marketing literature available on the reasons for privacy breaches, and advances the understanding of the role of employees in safeguarding customer data. It is an exploratory, small‐scale study that simultaneously offers new insight and identifies areas where further research is needed.

Practical implications

The paper presents practical contributions to marketing managers concerning policy wording, job design and reward schemes.


The study delivers a holistic framework to assess how the various privacy related initiatives may interact with each other, and specifically focusing the researcher's attention on what is often the weakest link in privacy protection: staff.



Canhoto, A.I. (2009), "Safeguarding customer information: the role of staff", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 26 No. 7, pp. 487-495.



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