Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by corporate communications executive, Carlos Victor.
It looked like a scene taken from the Police Academy movie (or Dumb&Dumber…), but this actually happened in a neighbourhood of Barcelona, Spain: two policemen fooling around while driving, enjoying a funny, private moment. The only problem: the wife of one of them – in an acrimonious divorce process – found the video on her husband’s computer and decided to upload it to YouTube in October of this year. The result: in a matter of hours the video saw 30,000 views – and the traditional media outlets online and on television amplified it even more. The video went viral, with parodies, and the police bureau had to deal with the situation.
In case you missed it, you can check out the video below:
What did the Police Department do in response to the leaked video?
In a press conference held on October 3rd, the local government announced that the two officers had their salaries suspended and that a disciplinary investigation would be carried out. It was also added that they regretted “the bad effect it has on the Police image”.
What lessons can we take away from this incident?
First, let’s talk a little bit about the times we are currently living in. The times of increasing public scrutiny. Then, I’ll outline ways to deal with the perils of information leakage.
Privacy is no longer private as it used to be
Let’s face it: the era of innocence is over. Everyone has a mini-camera in their pocket (also called a mobile phone) and is a potential spy. Moreover, surveillance cameras are abound everywhere, so Big Brother really does have an eye on us all! And finally, digital properties are very volatile. The conclusion: we have to get used to the blurred limits of the public and the private.
The question is, is this good or bad?
For some people, such as Jeff Jarvis, this Transparent Society is a great improvement. Others, like Andrew Keen, think that it is leading us to greater external control and we might be reveling far too much of our inner selves just for the use of a free service, such as Facebook or Foursquare. Apart from these important philosophical aspects, one thing is for sure: beware of your digital fingertips, and be cautious with the risks involving information leakage.
How to deal with information leakage
First, let’s examine very basic procedures to avoid unnecessary embarrassments:
- Be extremely careful with your behavior or image, especially when on duty or when you are hanging around with co-workers or business associates. Clearly, to be portrayed in a party with a beer will (probably) not hurt your reputation, but do not assume that your colleagues will not post or upload that embarrassing video of you dancing like a crazy person!
- Do not put on tape what you do not want to be seen by others. If you do record for your personal amusements, be selective with whom you share it electronically – and keep all copies in a very safe place. In Spain there was an even worse incident in early September, involving a town concilor, due to not being careful enough.
- Never assume that what you upload on Facebook or YouTube, even with the privacy settings that you select, will remain private. Remember the Domino’s Pizza crisis? You do not have control over digital assets, and if it involves content that might shock or be of interest to someone else, there’s a chance that it will spread beyond your control.
- Finally, take some extra seconds before posting something. Ask yourself: “is this really good for me, or can it be used against me in the future?” Double check things like: the correct privacy controls, are you posting from the correct account – which is another type of crisis to keep in mind – think KitchenAid.
These are simple tips, but the subject can get very complex when we are talking about corporations. That is why there are all kinds of procedures when it comes to the subject of Information Security.
Finally, how should you deal with information that has been leaked?
- Deal with the facts: especially with videos or photos because imagery is very convincing. Don’t use “panos calientes” (half-measures). Be blunt and straightforward, acknowledging the problem as it is.
- Act fast: try to be ahead of the news cycle or the social noise. The more you wait, the more the digital gossip and the more you lose control of the situation.
- If it is something serious (in this case, the worst problem for the policemen was not their foolish behavior, but the fact that they were driving), do what you have to do: make clear that something concrete is going to be done. State the repercussions of the actions (or inaction) involved.
- On the other hand, if the leakage was clearly an invasion of privacy – and not implying something too serious – try to contextualize the facts: take a stance and help the world see that you were a victim of the circumstances.
It is impossible to have absolute control over your digital persona, but exercising some of these preventive and damage control measures can help you to deal with the increasing power of information leakage.