TRUSTe Survey Reveals Online Privacy Issue: Are You Protecting Your Clients?

Privacy appears to be at the forefront of public opinion as TRUSTe released their annual Consumer Confidence Index. 92% of the people surveyed listed privacy as a major concern when browsing the Internet. This is a 42% increase from 2014. Individuals surveyed considered online privacy more important than national security.

With almost daily news reports surrounding hacking and the latest security breach at the Anthem insurance company, it is no surprise that this issue is a hot topic. The survey further pointed out that consumers were most concerned about the collection and sharing of personal data. This concern has experts concerned about negative affects on consumer behavior.

Modifying Behavior

The loss of trust between a corporation and the public was also highlighted in the survey.

“Americans who are concerned about their privacy have modified their online behavior in the last year meaning less data, fewer clicks and lost sales.” said Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe.

When consumers modify their behavior, they interact less with online media and are less likely to make purchases or products and services.

Building Trust

Although the TRUSTe report highlights an increase in public concern over the issue of privacy, this issue is not new. Most corporations have watched from the sidelines as hackers continue to carry out more elaborate attacks. They live in a state of denial. This denial is dangerous to corporate and the consumer. Instead of sitting on the sidelines it is time for corporations to be proactive in taking steps to protect online data. Waiting for government intervention and new FCC guidelines will not be sufficient in solving the problem.

Understanding Transparency

The growing concern about privacy should be noted for public relations professionals. Protecting privacy is often part of our jobs. We should care about both our clients and the public. Ensuring transparency is one of the ways we can address the public’s concern about personal data collection. Transparency is implied by several of the PRSA professional values and provisions of the Code of Ethics. Periodically informing the public about how an organization uses personal data can help calm concerns about privacy and in turn strengthen our relations and foster good will.

Taking Action

Where should a corporation begin? Measuring consumer knowledge of security practices is a good place to start. The TRUSTe survey revealed the following information about consumers:

  • 57 percent have not clicked on an online ad
  • 51 percent withheld some personal information they were asked for
  • 35 percent have not downloaded an app/product
  • 25 percent stopped an online transaction before completing it
  • 9 percent deleted an online account

The results suggest that consumers have a basic, but limited knowledge of security practices. Although they may engage is some basic security measures (i.e., deleting cookies), it is hard to determine the frequency of these practices. Your consumers might have different practices.PR professionals collect this information and then assist in providing basic and advanced information about online security and best practices.

Regardless of the industry, basic security practices, such as the ones suggested on the TRUSTe website can provide a great resource for developing internal communication policies.

Does your organization encourage any security practices? Are your customers concerned about the safety of their data? Leave a comment below.


Google Stops Mining Education Data and Moves Toward Transparency

Today Google announced that it will no longer scan Gmail or use mined data from its Apps for Education in targeted advertising. This decision comes after the policy was recently challenged in a 2013 California court case. Students and other users claimed the email scanning policy violated wiretap laws.

Bram Bout, Google’s Education Sales Director, said that the company will no longer scan Gmail in Apps for Education or collect the data for targeted advertising. This is an excellent move for Google and increases the company’s transparency.

Although Google has noted that its scanning is completely automated, critics still insist that user profile data might be attractive to the government and other malicious groups pending security breaches.

Beyond the critics, it is useful to consider why Google is making this move. Are users concerned about privacy or trust? The SXSW conference noted that privacy will be a major trend this year

Millennials are very open in sharing and communicating with trusted brands. A recent survey by the USC Annenberg Center of Digital Future and Bovitz Inc. suggests that Millennials are completely confused about the concept of privacy. 70% reported that no one should have access to their online data. However, 56% are willing to share their data for reimbursement.

I suspect that Google wants to avoid the “big data” label and distance itself from other organizations (i.e., the NSA) that have been secretly collecting data. It’s no longer a matter of collecting data, but a mater of trust. Do you trust Google?




Is Confide a Snapchat for Professionals?

We love the idea of privacy. In the era of big data it is comforting to believe that there is a communication channel that will allow us to securely send and receive sensitive data. This idea has fueled a number of developers to create mobile apps that promise anonymity.

Readers are well associated with with the popular picture sharing app, Snapchat. Snapchat is a mobile app that allows users to share photos or short videos. After the picture or video has been received it automatically self-destructs in a matter of seconds.

While Snapchat has been a huge hit in among teenagers and young adults, a new startup, Confide, is creating a “Snapchat” for professionals.

Confide differs from Snapchat as it allows users to send text messages. In addition, it applies end-to-end encryption and promises that messages are never stored on their servers.

Although this is an intriguing product, lets examine why Confide and other “anonymous” apps are far from secure or anonymous.

Confide’s Security Features

Confide offers several “unique” security features to deter receivers from taking screen shots. It sends an alert to both parties if someone attempts a screen shot and each line of text is concealed until you swipe your finger over the line. Although these are interesting features, an alert might not be received if you do not have a cellphone signal.

In addition, the swipe feature does not keep someone from recording the message with another device. Users can feel slightly securer knowing that the company uses end-to-end encryption, however given enough time any encryption scheme can be broken. Recent reports by cryptography experts also suggest that ‘end-to-end encryption’ is quickly becoming a pointless security feature.

The Promise of Anonymity

Hopefully, the above rundown has given you a slight pause about using an encryption app. I would like to take a moment to review the general myth behind these types of apps. These apps promise you a sense of privacy and anonymity. I think these myths are believed due to a general lack of knowledge about how technology and the Internet works.

The idea of anonymity goes against a primary rule of using the Internet. Everything you post or send online is public. When you send something through the Internet it goes through a number of servers and locations. Copies are created and information is saved. Even if the private sector is not storing your data  you have no idea which governmental agencies are saving your data for future analysis.

Who’s Collecting Information?

Remember the saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?”. Nothing is free, a business has to make money, if not the business goes bankrupt. Frequently companies that offer “free services” are gathering and selling your personal data to other companies and third parties. Have you ever actually read an app’s Terms of Service or Privacy Policy?

Once again I question whether the general public realizes an exchange is taking place. You are buying the “free app” with your personal information. For example, a very popular Android flashlight app is under investigation by the FTC for transmitting users’ precise location and device identifier to other companies.

What this means for PR

The idea that technology (specifically the Internet) provides a secure and private means of transmitting confidential information is a myth. As public relations professionals we should realize the potential damages and ethical issues surrounding the use of these types of “anonymous” communication apps.

We should undertake an advocacy role in explaining the weaknesses of these apps to our various stakeholders and administrators. In fact, like social media, it might be necessary to address these types of technologies in our digital communication policies. Do you use an encryption app? If so I would like to hear your comments and thoughts on this topic.

Paint Brushes

PR: Not Just Name

Wikipedia has just publicly named a Texas-based “public relations” firm, Wiki-PR, for whitewashing a number of entries on their webpage. Specifically, Wikipedia accused the organization for “sock puppetry” or creating false user identifies to “praise, defend, or support a person or organization.” (Wikipedia). This story is receiving significant attention from several media outlets (i.e., Verge, Los Angles Times, Wikipedia), but some of the news coverage is framing the company as a public relations firm, not a Wikipedia consulting firm.

This story raises an excellent question, what should a company look for in a public relations or social media consulting firm?

PR Defined

The best place to start is to review a commonly accepted definition of public relations. PR is not simply the distribution of a news release or the creation of a social media pages; instead it is a “Strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (PRSA). In the Wiki-PR case, Wikipedia is a public that can be both influenced by outside sources (i.e., your company) and influence your stakeholders (i.e., potential customers). Engaging in “sock puppetry” does not build a mutually beneficial relationship between your company and Wikipedia, the firm representing you, and other publics.

A public relations firm should have an “about us” page or other relevant information that demonstrates they understand the role of public relations in creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Edelman, one of the top public relations firms in the world, has an extensive “about us” page that presents its values and understanding of public relations. When searching for a PR consulting firm, make sure that you can review the firm’s values and approach to public relations.

PR Ethics

A public relations firm becomes an ethical advocate for a company or organization. In turn, ethical practices are critical in fairly representing your company to the public. A PR firm should have a statement or clear description of ethical values. PR practitioners are often members of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA). The PRSA is the largest public relations organization in the world and places significant emphasis on educating its members about ethical standards. Over the years, PRSA has established a Code of Ethics that helps practitioners and firms navigate ethical dilemmas. Compare a firm’s values to the PRSA Code of Ethics. This comparison should give you a good idea of whether a firm places enough emphasis on ethics.

Another sign of a reputable PR firm are employees who hold Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credentials. APR is an industry recognized standard established by the PRSA in 1964 and evaluates a practitioner’s understanding of a number of important aspects of public relations, including ethical practices. A quick Google search or inquiry to a firm can confirm if an individual holds an APR.

Just a Name

Would you judge a book by its cover? When looking for public relations firm you must be very selective. You are not simply selecting someone to write a media release, but someone who will be publically advocating for your company. A little bit of research goes a long way to preventing a crisis situation, (think Wiki-PR and Wikipedia). Go beyond the aesthetics of a website and review a firm’s concept of public relations and ethical values. A great PR firm will be more than willing to share with you their strategies and tactics for achieving your campaign goals