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Know Your Rights: Personal Data Protection

Published on October 18, 2019, at 3:00 p.m.
by Kennedy Schwefler.

I’ve caught my dad talking to our Amazon Alexa a couple of times now, asking, “Hey Alexa, are you recording me?” or “Hey Alexa, did you get that?”

Ever since the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica privacy breach, it seems that the public’s concern with personal data is reaching new heights. Our digital footprint has turned into a digital monster. What exactly do these high-tech companies know about us?

The success of an organization’s public relations is based on relationships with its stakeholders. If these stakeholders don’t trust the organization, all public relations efforts are lost causes.

With multiple large data breaches in the 21st century, 72% of VMware study responses said that businesses

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and governments are not transparent enough about the technologies they use. Technology evolves overnight, and it sometimes seems like there’s no way to safeguard users’ personal data.

In the United States, there isn’t one comprehensive piece of legislation that protects users’ personal data; however, the Obama Administration attempted to provide a catalyst for policy that protects data privacy in 2012. The bill’s goal was to “preserve consumer trust and promote innovation.” Unfortunately, it fell victim to poor timing and never passed.

Today, there has been little change in United States legislation regarding digital protection. This policy stalemate labels the country as a global outlier.

Courtney Firth, a publicist at Covet Public Relations, noticed this lag in reform as well. She is from the United Kingdom, and her family lives there to this day

“There’s a lot more regulation in the U.K. and many other countries compared to the United States,” said Firth.

The European Union passed The General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 to define the future of data usage. It specifies rights and restrictions of users and gives examples of situations to clarify. Additionally, the 2018 Data Protection Act is another piece of legislation protecting people living in the U.K.

Organizations in the United States must learn and comply with these new laws if their businesses have consumers in countries that observe data protection laws.

“If we know a company we’re working with has a different set of policies, we’re very wary of that as we go ahead and make sure we’re compliant with those rules,” said Katherine Davis, a digital account executive for Alloy, a digital strategy and website specialty business.

While these laws stop organizations in the European Union from abusing users’ personal information, there’s no restrictive legislation deterring businesses in the United States.

There is one universal principle to build and maintain trust from stakeholders: remain transparent. The more businesses keep private, the more room there is for suspicion.

“[Privacy breaches] are a really hard thing to come back from,” said Becci Hart, president of public relations at Intermark Group.

Hart has firsthand experience with data misuse from superstore Walmart’s online entity. She has not interacted with the brand since.

What are we really consenting to when we mindlessly check “I agree” on various terms and agreements?

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People are signing over their digital privacy and freedom to see “What kind of dog are you?” or download an app that’ll stay on their phone for maybe two days.

Today, everything has roots in the digital realm; Wi-Fi is modern-day oxygen and cell phones are a lifeline.

“It’s going to be a bigger hill to climb because people don’t care that their data is being shared and even stolen because it’s so normalized in society,” said Firth.

The concern with big tech companies storing our information is the digital profile it creates for each user once all the data points come together. People may not care about whether Google Maps tracks a person’s location for a couple of hours, but when that information is paired with what websites that person frequently visits, that’s where the digital profile starts to build.

Davis also talks about how it’s not just data that’s being collected – it’s activity as well.

When a site serves visitors a pop-up asking “Leaving this site?” it’s not a friendly check-in. The program tracks mouse movement to the search bar and tries to keep visitors for as long as possible.

She offered a solution to help organizations remain transparent regarding their data tracking:

“Inform your consumers as they’re going through filling out their information,” she said. “When you look

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at specific fields, e.g., when they ask for your birthday, it might be helpful for companies to give an explanation right then and there that breaks out why they’re asking for that information.”

While data rights are important for everyone to know, it is especially pertinent to public relations practitioners. One of the most important duties of a public relations professional is protecting an organization’s brand. PR professionals are ethical advocates for businesses and expected to know how each sector of the company affects its image and position. The smallest mishap of data sharing may negatively alter a business forever.

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