Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Staying one step ahead of the privacy police

Online privacy comes into the public relations wheelhouse because of viral ripples that can extend throughout the web and sometimes into print. There are ways to take the air out of that alarming balloon with some intelligence done in advance. Let's face it, a great offense is a good defense.

There are many online start-ups that have to worry to varying degrees about the privacy police spanking them for abusing consumer data.

In order to create a viable financial model, these companies end up touching opt-ins, opt-outs, and personal and marketing data collection.

Stoking this concern was Facebook's Beacon advertising program late last fall, which caused such an over reactionary uproar from privacy advocates, Facebook had to quickly go into crisis control mode and calm everybody down. This tempest in a teapot had many targeting companies ducking for cover except for a very few like ISP behavioral targeting firm NebuAd.

In my experience, there are a few solid public relations tactics that can prevent a lot of headaches:
  • Always assume that your privacy policy will be scrutinized sooner or later. The further in advance you act to allay concerns, the less the odds of feeling the heat later on.
  • Appoint an executive with the additional title of Chief Privacy Officer. The executive should belong to an industry or advertising standard committee or board. Both internally and externally, it should be known somebody with the right credentials is overseeing privacy matters. Make sure the title is added on to all corporate materials, including the company web site.
  • In all press releases, include a sentence that the company conforms to the industry standards set by a recognized organization. This sentence can be inserted down the first page or even on the second.
Of course, these tactics are not solutions for being careless and criminal with private data.

A smart public relations professional always has to think ahead about nipping problems in the bud and I've found these techniques to be effective.

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