Q&A: How businesses can use social media without sacrificing privacy

With new regulations on the horizon and high-profile data breaches becoming mainstream news, data privacy and protection has never been more important for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Social media is one area where this privacy is at risk due to the huge amount of information we post online. To learn more about maintaining our privacy online, we spoke to Fred Ghahramani, founder and CEO of new social media platform Just10.

  1. What does the social media landscape look like today with regards to privacy – how would you score Facebook / Whatsapp / Snapchat in terms of their approach to privacy?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a 'scorecard' with respect to privacy in the field of secure messaging (accessible here: https://www.eff.org/node/82654). One of the most noticeable trends from the survey is that the brands which score 'perfectly' on the scorecard, are not the big household names such as Snapchat and Facebook Chat, but are more niche players such as Text Secure and Silent Text.

This is because in order to be fully-secure and private generally requires some sort of up-front 'thinking' or 'tinkering' on behalf of the user. When the commercial goal is to build a mass market service, such up-front tinkering becomes a filter or speed bump for customer traction. Beyond just this up-front barrier, there are also clear business reasons why the biggest social networks can never be serious about privacy.

Take for example the case of Facebook and Twitter:

  • User profiles are public by default (it takes work to make them private).
  • User posts are public by default (it takes work to keep them private).
  • Virtually every new feature is set up to modify your privacy settings to ensure your messages and information are widely shared and amplified.
  • Both of the above services operate under the advertising business model – meaning page views are the core revenue metric.
  • And naturally, more public content means more clicks and views, means more page views, and more advertising revenue – hence the slippery slope to drive experiences public.

To this end, the social media landscape is fundamentally in a tug of war with privacy, namely, when it comes to ease of use and commercial adoption – privacy is the enemy. When it comes to maximising advertising revenues? Privacy is the enemy. Yet ironically, countless focus groups and research studies reveal that consumers very much value their online privacy.

For example, PEW Research revealed that 66 per cent of consumers don't have a high level of confidence when it comes to sharing their information with social networks. Given this, it’s no wonder social networks are being filled with more and more 'fake' meme type content and people no longer share real genuine thoughts or interactions online.

So naturally, we feel that it's time for a commercial alternative – a social network that's not reliant on advertising, which doesn't collect or store personal information, that's default private and secure.

  1. What are the associated risks / problems for business leaders using social media?

It seems like almost every day some executive, business leader, politician, or celebrity suffers from a 'foot-in-mouth' type incident on social media. At best, these incidents are jokes, comments, or off-hand remarks that seemed appropriate given the right context, but when published through the 2-dimensional medium of the internet, seem highly offensive or embarrassing.

Tweets or Facebook posts can be unearthed many years later (after an individual has already grown up), but the context of the statements are not accurately communicated when cited.

Some recent examples include:

  • At just 20 years old, SNP MP Mhairi Black has the honour of being the youngest MP ever elected to the houses of parliament - which means just a few years ago, she was a snot-nosed teenager, and shockingly all her past social media posts remain online.
  • Justine Sacco – Former PR Executive at IAC, famously lost her job due to an off-colour joke that she tweeted to her small group of friends who follow her. After her nine hour flight had landed, millions of people had seen the Tweet and she was unemployed.
  • Naz Shah – MP for Bradford West recently caused a furore in the Labour Party due to her allegedly anti-Semitic tweets and posts from many years ago (well before she was an MP) being discovered online and amplified.

The public-by-default setting on social media means your audience today can be different to your audience of tomorrow. The permanency of most social media platforms means a user’s thoughts and ideas can be taken out of context if read at a later date. As a business leader, you’d never dream of giving a reporter a statement after consuming three pints, yet many are happy enough to Tweet their ideas from their mobile devices late into the night.

  1. How can businesses maintain their privacy online?

Social media can be a secret peephole into your business, so it's extremely important to have an up-front conversation with employees about your company's policies as they relate to disclosures on social media, and the company's expectations of employee behaviour on social media. For example, some technology companies don't mind employees posting photos from the office, as they can reinforce a positive brand image when it comes to attracting new recruits.

On the other hand, some companies, which deal explicitly in intellectual property, are far more protective about any forms of images or captures that occur on the company premises being leaked or posted online to social media.

Each company needs to first formulate and articulate its social media policies, before then ensuring that these policies are communicated vocally and frequently to employees.

  1. Is enough being done to educate employees of the risks of using social media?

Definitely not. The Foot-in-Mouth disease continues to claim new unsuspecting victims every day.

  1. What can businesses do to rebuild consumer trust after the recent data breaches?

Digital data breaches are a public relations and customer service crisis – of the same scale and impact as an oil spill, bank robbery, or train derailment. To this end, conventional bricks and mortars businesses can provide a good lesson into how to effectively deal with such a crisis, and what must be done towards regaining customer confidence.

For example BP wouldn't wait a month to make a statement on an oil spill, because that period of silence creates a vacuum, into which can get sucked in speculation and false accusations, which when not refuted, would negatively impact the brand and the public's perception of the organisation. To this end it's extremely important to "own" the data breach from the very instant that you become aware of it. Inform the customers impacted, educate and guide them through how to mitigate further losses, and be transparent about what you know, and what you are investigating. Provide frequent updates and communication, don't evade questions from customers, the public, or the media.

Organisations that trade, store, or archive health records, financial records, or personally identifiable information may have an obligation to report a breach to the relevant governmental authority, privacy officer, or regional authority – it's best to know this ahead of time, and not have to 'figure it out' on the fly. This is why ultimately it's extremely important to document and annually review a "disaster recovery plan" related to potential data breaches. Ensuring that multiple stakeholders or employees (after all someone could be on vacation when a data breach occurs) run through and document an annual mental fire drill of things that would need to done to triage and contain a data breach.

At the end of the day, customers are willing to forgive a brand or organisation that suffers a data loss, if the organisation’s handling and communication in the time of crisis seems genuine, forthright, and transparent – and a little bit of preparation and planning can be a great insurance policy to making this happen.

Image source: Flickr/Jason Howie