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Wikileaks, Vault 7, the CIA and what we can learn

By Andrew Day, partner at Spring Risk

Anti-globalisation has become a serious theme in Western countries. Political and social movements converge on the issue. Who pulls the strings?  It’s no longer a question asked solely by conspiracy theorists and anti-establishment interests.  It bites on politicians, government in general and its agencies, corporates, high profile individuals and social media platforms as well as customer, clients and consumers.

The recent release of Vault 7 by WikiLeaks uncovering some of the tactics the CIA have been using bridges the gap between the public and the private worlds in a way arguably not seen before. If, as is being alleged, Samsung TV’s are listening and watching devices being used by the CIA, then consumers are unwittingly using their own purchasing power to feed the machine that is watching them with their private information.

What does that do to the relationship between business and the consumer?

Arguably this latest news just adds to the state of flux that surrounds personal privacy. As quickly as the day after the CIA breach, FBI Director James Comey was doubling down on the Wikileaks revelations by proclaiming Americans deserve NO privacy.

So, with the Security agencies on the back foot; corporates trying to strengthen their security; and WikiLeaks stating this is just the beginning, what happens next and how can we learn from these cyber hacking incidents that can be used to protect your business and its relationship with its customers? Is someone to blame for any damage caused to brand value by these leaks?  Is it the new normal that privacy is forever relinquished in exchange for greater choice and promises of freedom?

One question is on WikiLeaks responsibility. A poll conducted by WikiLeaks on Twitter showed 57% of its followers want the group to coordinate with technology companies, including Apple, to fix attack vectors faster. About 36% say that the tech companies are the problem, with 7% having a more nuanced view of the issue, roughly balanced between controlled disclosures to tech companies and calls from voters seeking WikiLeaks itself to be shut down.

Reportedly, Julian Assange is planning on sharing these key details exclusively with the companies whose products are vulnerable, so they can work together in defeating the CIA’s hacking arsenal

Given all the many possible scenarios of business risk in the constantly evolving landscape of data privacy rights, cyber threat capabilities, and regional economic and political interests. Perhaps the overarching question is What do consumers expect from the private sector?

In terms of strategic approaches to this flux, does the board consider this an opportunity to try to gain competitive advantage by being the most secure with its data and privacy, or perhaps there is an opportunity to create new opportunities, markets and models by being more transparent with company information, even company secrets.

Will this also call into question about the long-term future for data privacy regulations like EU GDPR?  If consumers are willing to trade their privacy for product innovation and customer experience, stringent regimes like the GDPR will become a hindrance to customer choice.

Whatever the outcome, without customer trust business won’t be able to grow. An important step for all business to understand is that everything is hackable.  The challenge lies in conveying to customers and clients the realities of data exchanges and the risks and rewards in them.  The only way a business can be 100% successful in avoiding hacks is if it employs no-one and ceases trading.

The value of privacy should be all about transparency, integrity, and competence.  All of us in business should ask how we make the most of embracing the risks in conjunction with the wider stakeholders. Without this companies will struggle to maintain customer trust, let alone drive their business into future growth. The opportunity is very much there for organisations who adapt faster than the competition.

Image courtesy of pixabay

Posted in Digital and Tech, Editor's Picks, Public Relations

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