Prudence is Required as PR Proceeds Into Mobile

Photo: Jay Westcott/Politico

Yesterday, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) led the first hearing for the new Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law. During that hearing, Apple and Google were in the hot seat to discuss consumer privacy, location-based technology, and how all that relates to the skyrocketing mobile device use in this country.

During the hearing, Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general of the criminal division of the U.S. Justice Department said “there are currently no legal restrictions in place to prevent that data from being shared with other third-party businesses,” BusinessWeek writes. He added that “federal law does not currently require a company to disclose a data breach, such as that recently experienced by Sony, and said that we need regulations that govern both situations.”

All of that is important to the PR industry for a couple of reasons.

The first is since this committee is new, it appears that the members are feeling things out and learning more about this area in order to determine which way they’d like policy to go. The back-and-forth described in the BusinessWeek article shows that Sen. Franken is closely examining what’s possible with this technology and how it can be put to use to protect or violate consumer privacy.

The second is since there are no legal restrictions, if policymakers think that companies and brands are trampling on consumer privacy rights and running amok for marketing or other purposes, “no regulation” can turn into consideration for some strict regulation.

A researcher who spoke, Ashkan Soltani, called for increased transparency. Marketers would be well-advised to keep that word in mind as they continue to use mobile in their publicity campaigns. While many publicists are excited about the possibilities, if mobile technology is used in a way that consumers think oversteps their bounds, it can quickly turn from opportunity to crisis.

The Business Week article also notes at the end that this is likely to be a long process of determining what’s what. Taking the time to make sure everyone is communicating in ways that are welcome could be the best course of action. Here’s a video of Sen. Franken going after Apple VP of software technology Guy “Bud” Tribble (great name) for some seeming double-talk. Don’t be the next Bud Tribble.