by Ahmad Itani, Founder & CEO of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, one of the 100 most powerful Arabs for 2018, and one of 2017’s global Top 50 PR Game Changers shares his thoughts.
Just before I sat down to write this, I came across an announcement by Dubai Police¹ asking users
to be cautious even while playing seemingly harmless games like Candy Crush or taking a friendly quiz, due to data collection and potential breaches of privacy. Yet, as propagators of new-age communication tactics, we speak about the usage of big data and digital footprint mapping as the way to build brands of the future. This dichotomy of ethics is something that is fast becoming a catch-22 for public relations professionals across the world, leading us to explore a term now known as ‘digital social responsibility’.
Remember the halcyon days of Facebook when we gladly shared our information with the world and
granted them access to our details and updates? In 2013, about 300,000 people took part in an online
poll set up by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan who illegitimately, through a loop hole,
gained access to the details of everyone on their network, building a database of 87 million users — some
analysts putting the number closer to 100 million. The clincher? Facebook was well aware of the breach
and failed to communicate it to its users.
This was certainly not the first time that an online breach had occurred, but its scale was monumental
enough to have people consider their digital privacy settings. This is where digital social responsibility
steps in. According to a recent Accenture survey, 77 per cent of businesses agree the responsible and
secure use of data has become a strategic, board-level issue — and nearly two-thirds report that they now
have a chief data/privacy officer or equivalent. This is fast becoming a norm rather than an exception as
part of digital thought leadership programmes.
Another important facet is transparency. Good public relations hinges on trust, and if algorithmic data is
used without proper sourcing, neither the company an agency represents nor its customers will have faith
in the message.
The usage of online data does not need to be limited to behavioural factors. The new millennium has
introduced to the world innovations and opportunities that were considered dreams in the minds of youngsters in the 20th century. Corporate social responsibility can be converted into digital social responsibility via hackathons, digital whiteboards, online think tanks, collaborative problem solving and so much more. Done the right way, consumers will be more than willing to share information with corporations, rather than getting a feeling of being spied upon.