Damage Limitaion

stuart-wilkesCelebrity culture has a striking similarity to cyber security, in that many wish to avoid it, ignore it and hope it will just go away however its natural tenacity somehow always breaks through and permeates into our everyday life. Rather than ignore the celebrity culture a particular ongoing issue may be able to teach us all a valuable lesson with regard to reputational damage caused when sensitive information leaks out into the public consciousness.

Putting a price on the damage caused to an organisations reputation due to a cyber incident, cyber breach, or other compromise is almost incalculable. Talk Talk, who was lasts years UK poster child for cyber related incidents, has suffered terribly, even though they have been doing their level best to improve their security, build customer confidence and generally try to put the past behind them. Is it working? Not yet, the name Talk Talk and cyber breach are joined at the hip. It seems that there is nothing they can do, just plug away and hopefully over time, probably a long time, their reputation will improve. For Talk Talk it must feel that it would be far easier to ‘unstir’ jam out of rice pudding than to reobtain the public standing they had less than 12 months ago.

Over in the gilded land of celebrity they have their own particular form of data breach and in some ways are far more adapted to dealing with it than their opposite numbers in business. At the present moment there is a case sitting with the Supreme Court over the identity of a celebrity who wishes to keep their extra marital activities out of the public consciousness. They have used a super injunction, which is essentially a gagging order, that prevents any media outlet in England and Wales from reporting on the details. Any organisation that does ‘spill the beans’ would be in contempt of court and although my legal understanding is ‘basic’ even I know that this is a bad thing.

However, this super injunction, this gagging order applies only to England and Wales. Scotland has already revealed the individuals name, as has many other countries and media outlets that are not covered by this order. This injunction is essentially useless at protecting the anonymity of this individual. Even the most rudimentary internet search will provide an interested party with all the salacious details they can stomach – should they be so inclined. So what is the point? Because when somebody is so worried about their public profile, their reputation, they will eventually turn to the law in order to obtain some level of protection. Sadly, the world is interconnected and has precious little respect for national boundaries, so any form of injunction, super or otherwise, is totally ineffective.

When the name of this individual and their antics eventually gets into the public conciseness, and I’m sure it will, they will then enact a tried and tested method of reputational rebuild. They will do a heartfelt interview with an understanding reporter of a friendly magazine or Sunday newspaper. They will tour the daytime TV schedules and ask for understanding, forgiveness for this marital misdemeanour. As time progresses they will release a book about how they and their partner have ‘rebuilt’ their lives after such a harrowing public cross examination and ultimately this issue will slowly fade into the background noise of life. However, every now and then a satirical TV show will make reference to it gaining chortles from its judgmental audience. But no matter what they do, the damage is done, some of the mud will stick and this incident will be forever etched in their public biography.

Celebrities are just individuals who have gained notoriety through application of skill and in some cases talent. When they fall from grace due to a ‘data breach’ they mainly hurt themselves. When a company suffers a ‘data breach’ the effects can be far wider reaching. Jobs will be lost. Supply chains will be disrupted. Trust will be broken. Companies may try to rebuild the damage, put out statements, explain what they are doing, they may even go to the extremes of celebrity and attempt to suppress details being discussed in the media through the use of legal tools. But sadly it will never be enough, once the genie is out of the bottle, once you have opened that can of worms, getting it back in is next to impossible.

The moral of this story, well that’s simple, don’t get into a position in the first place that compromises your professional standing. We almost expect celebrities to trip and fall and in many cases we are willing to forgive them in the fullness of time. But forgiveness for companies who provide us with goods and services and then let us down, well that is a much harder commodity to find.

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