January 11, 2011 / by Molly Ward

Communications privacy and information security, like other social issues, have been radically impacted by the advent of the Internet and social media. New technologies for sharing and interacting, conversation and connection, have destabilized traditional relationships of producer/consumer, private/public. Visible sits right in the middle of these issues for a whole range of clients. It’s critical to us that you understand that Visible is aware of the challenges presented by this relatively new communication paradigm. We take the legal and ethical standards of our industry—both codified and implicit—very seriously, respecting the privacy of our clients and their customers and keeping their data secure.

Thankfully, we’re not the only company wrestling with these issues, and we’re careful to stay abreast of the insightful thought-leadership coming from the likes of EFF, WOMMA, Groklaw, and. . . Martin Kjoster.

Martin who? Dr. Martin Kjoster, annoyed by the repeated automated parsing of his sites by Charlie Stross in 1993, invented and subsequently standardized “robots.txt,” a method for directing limited collection of Web content by automated systems. Visible, like Google and other “good bots,” respects the robots.txt standard, and only acquires data from partners who pledge to do so as well. We don’t want to end up here!

Some of the biggest sources of social media content don’t require this old-school approach. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) provide credentialed systems, like Visible Intelligence, only the data they’re specifically permitted to retrieve. For example, from Facebook we receive only the “Discussions” of (public) “Official” and “Group” pages and the “Wall Posts” from those pages, in adherence with Facebook’s terms of service. In many ways, Visible serves as an arbitrage point for these systems and their attendant terms and conditions, presenting to our clients a single, unified view of publicly-available content across millions of disparate social media systems.

What about private content? Visible is often asked to collect content that is technically private, i.e., protected by login controls or otherwise insulated from normal search systems. A great example of this is a product forum, say, for automobile enthusiasts. An owner of this site may want to make the data from this forum available to Visible for analysis. Visible takes special care with these types of requests, and has a strong policy of only collecting private data where we have explicit permission to do so from content creators or owners.

Technical impediments and contractual limitations are really the least important reasons to avoid breaching personal privacy. Visible helps our clients to understand that they have a vested interest in engaging genuinely with interested individuals, understanding and adding value to relevant conversations, and responding to the voice of the public by building products and services that meet customer demand. Messing with information that people consider private is a guaranteed way to alienate them.

Some industries have special regulations around information and communication; as examples, pharmaceutical companies, publicly traded companies, and political candidacies are constrained by myriad legal requirements making participation in social media challenging and complex—especially without tools. Visible provides expert consultancy and an application framework to ensure that our clients operate in a way that is consistent with any relevant standards. Using a centrally-managed, controlled system like Visible Intelligence significantly assists with the auditing and compliance efforts around all types of social media analysis and engagement.

In addition to our social media data collection efforts, Visible also has a responsibility to protect the data that our clients provide directly to us. We follow industry best practices for encryption of user data such as e-mail addresses and passwords; both in transit and at rest. Visible Intelligence uses SSL to encrypt all data transactions with our customers. We also set and follow stringent standards for protection of our internal research and analysis materials, corporate records, and other sensitive documents.

These protections reflect Visible’s commitment to meeting—and exceeding—the needs of our Global 2000 clientele. Privacy and information security are truly the foundation of our business. We see it as mandatory to provide this foundation for our clients, so that they, in turn, are free to focus on leveraging our deep data, powerful analytics, and industry-leading customer service.

Tags : social media

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