Use data ethically to support your message and your reputation

Did you do anything special during September to observe PRSA Ethics Month? If you did, congratulations! If not, relax. Most ethics resources can be accessed anytime online.

Today’s public relations strategies, tactics and campaigns often include data-driven decision-making to drive results. With the use of data comes a whole new set of ethical challenges for PR professionals.

For example, when using data as part of your PR strategy, maintaining data privacy and security are key considerations.

If, in the course of your work, you’re gathering personal information, be honest in how and what you do with it. If you say you will only report survey results in aggregate, and will maintain individual responses confidential, live up to your promise. Nothing breaks trust and credibility faster than misusing or mismanaging data, especially personal data.

Take care and precautions to protect the accuracy and security of data. If you’re dealing with data vendors, ask questions and obtain assurances to confirm that they’re complying with applicable laws, regulations, best practices in systems and security management, etc., to help protect data integrity and yours.

If you mismanage data, there could be serious consequences. In the case of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability act, known as HIPPA — designed to protect patient privacy and maintain the security of electronic records — if you fail to comply with its provisions, you could risk losing your job if you work in industries covered by it.

It’s essential to comply with laws, regulations and agreements for data collection and use, no matter what country or region in which you’re communicating.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is one of the toughest regulations around. If you’re communicating in campaigns targeting Europeans, it’s important to understand it to know what it takes to comply. See https://eugdpr.org/ to learn more.

Data privacy is taken seriously in the United States, too. The California Consumer Privacy Act goes into effect January 1, 2020. It marks some of the most comprehensive data protection privacy laws in the U.S. It could be precedent setting for other states considering future regulations or potential federal requirements.

So, what’s good counsel when it comes to incorporating data into your work? If you’re using data in your work as a public relations pro, use it accurately and objectively. Avoid the temptation to use it out of context or to distort it. Be truthful, transparent and use data honestly to support your message and reputation, rather than risk it.

If you’re looking for more resources on understanding data privacy ethical considerations, see this from the Association of National Advertisers content: https://thedma.org/accountability/ethics-and-compliance/dma-ethical-guidelines/data-security/

Submitted by Kathy Krafka-Harkema, APR, Ethics Chair

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