Facebook's privacy concerns will reverberate far beyond social media

The long-term value of "drawing attention" to a company's policies on privacy for its employees and customers far outweighs the short-term downside of pretending there's not a problem.

When I joined MWW Group in 2005, one of the first activities I took on was the development of a cogent social media policy for the organization, with the help of human resources and the company’s COO. Our position was that if we were going to be making recommendations on how our clients leveraged social and digital tools, we should be "walking the talk," so to speak. The first step on that "walk" was this policy.

Over the years, social media policies have come and gone, grown and evolved, and in many cases, been blended into organizations’ employment agreements and policy documents. That’s in line with how social and digital tools have blended into society. They’re just "there" and aren’t necessarily any "different" from other things we use every day. Did we get passive about these types of policies by weaving them into our everyday activities? Has that led to many people being nonchalant about their personal information and handing it over on a whim?

With the news that Facebook was making significant changes (again) to its privacy tools in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many digital citizens of the world are taking another look at what data is out there about them, and how they can tighten the reins on it. There is speculation that significant regulations, which will likely be international in nature, given Facebook’s reach, will be placed on the digital giant, and leaders including Apple’s Tim Cook are among those calling for them.

Instinct says that we’ll likely start to see reverberations from Facebook’s actions that reach organizations large and small, whether they are in the digital arena or not. With concerns about employees being physically tracked at work becoming more common, and the fact that many of us receive laptops, phones, and other devices from our employers, it’s probably a good idea for companies to create clarity on what is – or isn’t – being collected, stored, shared, etc. This ultimately factors into attraction and retention strategies for employers.

Likewise, as communicators, we need to guide our clients and leadership teams to become more transparent on this topic for our customers, clients, business partners, and other constituents. The long-term value of "drawing attention" to a company’s policies on privacy for its employees and customers far outweighs the short-term downside of pretending there’s not a potential problem in our midst.

Say what you want about Apple’s business practices in other areas, but the value of having an executive say "The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that," as Tim Cook did is one of the stronger stances taken on just about anything privacy related in recent times.

Let this moment in our times serve as a well-deserved wakeup call, and let’s all heed that call. It’s not about simply deleting our digital presences – that’s treating the symptoms, not the disease – it’s about paying closer attention to how we handle ourselves and our information, and how organizations can imbue trust by being better digital citizens and help us do that more effectively.

Tom Biro resides in Seattle and is MD at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, Washington. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at tom@rustygeorge.com.

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