Are you prepared for a public battering?

So, how’s your knowledge of the Data Protection Act, 1998? OK, perhaps not the most fascinating question you will face today, but, sadly, a necessary one. If, like nearly half of the businesses questioned by the data regulator, you didn’t even recognise the importance of keeping customer data securely, you could be heading for a nasty bite on the ass.
Now, while some of you might secretly enjoy that in private, in the corporate world, it is about as welcome as a being summoned to the offices of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. In these days of customer empowerment, it seems the humble consumer is far more aware of their rights under the Act than companies realise. Brands can no longer pull the wool over customers’ eyes, blinding them with the well worn smokescreen of “sorry we can’t help you, that’s against the Data Protection Act”.
But don’t just take my word for it – chew on these figures: nearly 90 per cent of individuals have a clear understanding of their right to see information about them held by an organisation; 84 per cent know they can request information from authorities through the Freedom of Information Act; and 93 per cent believe that the Data Protection Act is “necessary”.
No wonder Information Commissioner Christopher Graham believes brand owners should sit up and take notice, warning that “businesses need to show that they are taking data protection seriously. Failing to do so could not only lead to enforcement action, but do significant damage to their reputation”.
How many more laptops left on a train or memory sticks full of sensitive data lost will it take for companies to wake up to their responsibilities? Ironically, of course, it is Government departments who appear to be the worst culprits, but the Google Street View fiasco should serve as a warning to everyone.
After all, this is a company which possibly holds more data on individuals than any other, yet even it didn’t realise it had inadvertently captured highly confidential passwords and URLs, let alone a few people in rather compromising situations.
Have its actions damaged the Google brand? Undoubtedly. Luckily for Google it is an immensely powerful company and has broad enough shoulders to take the blows. In these turbulent times, would your brand be able to weave and bob its way out of such a fight as the blows rained down?

Charlie McKelvey, publishing editor charlie.mckelvey@decisionmarketing.co.uk

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