No Apology for Snapchat Security Breach

snapchatspeigel No Apology for Snapchat Security Breach

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.

Does being CEO and founder of the Internet’s overvalued social fad of the moment mean never having to say you’re sorry? Looks like CEO Evan Spiegel of Snapchat, the self-deleting photo-messaging app, thinks so.

Hackers celebrated New Year’s Day by publishing the user names and private phone numbers associated with 4.6 million Snapchat profiles. The breach occurred after the start-up, whose very appeal derives from its promise of privacy, seemingly ignored an outside security firm’s warning about a security hole. Citing Snapchat’s months-long lack of action, the firm made the warning public on Christmas Eve.

It’s not the first time Snapchat and its founder have been called out for hubris, but this one could really cost. In the days after the breach, security experts lined up to predict class-action lawsuits and regulatory investigations. As for Spiegel,  he declined to offer any kind of apology or mea culpa, telling an interviewer that in a fast-moving business like his, “If you spend your time looking backwards, you’re just going to kill yourself.” An attitude like that could make Snapchat as short-lived as the photos its users share.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Evan Spiegel, for a tone-deaf response to a crisis that only a company lawyer could love.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Own your mistakes. A 22-year-old CEO of a $2 billion company, for all his genius and entrepreneurial skill, probably doesn’t possess the maturity to get beyond the “It’s not my fault” mentality. But Spiegel’s non-apology almost certainly came on advice from nervous lawyers that he avoid admitting culpability. It showcases the dynamic tension that typically exists between corporate legal and PR teams, whose overlapping missions occasionally chafe. We’ll see if Snapchat remains as blasé when users fight back.

Obama Administration’s Epic Tech Fails

 Obama Administrations Epic Tech Fails

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors. (Pictured: NSA leaker Edward Snowden)

Earlier this week, President Obama had to call French President Francois Hollande and explain, if he could, why the US was spying on the phone records of over 70 million French citizens. The issue was brought to light by former US National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed NSA secrets to several news agencies months ago. Now more than ever, it is imperative that President Obama’s technical administration locate the fugitive tech expert. Not just to save face; they could actually use his help.

Aside from being unable to locate Snowden, a man of Bourne-movie level abilities to erase every trace of his movements, the Obama administration has lost credibility over the technical glitches on Healthcare.gov, the main portal to signing up for mandatory Obamacare. Yesterday, another gaffe: a Twitter feed that has been revealing embarrassing inside information about foreign policy for the past two years was traced back to Jofi Joseph, an official in the White House’s National Security Staff. #howembarrassing.

Americans have grown uncomfortably accustomed to government failures. A lack of regulations allowed the collapse of the economy. Bipartisanship led to a shutdown. Now the website to register for healthcare doesn’t work, prompting the president to record a video encouraging people to sign up “the old fashioned way,” via phone or in person. Presumably, this video was made around the time of the  call to the French president about the tech guy the CIA can’t find, and before the Twitter revelation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you want to do your best, surround yourself with the best. America is not exactly short on technical excellence, yet the president’s cabinet signed off on using ten-year-old technology for Healthcare.gov. The military stands by the accuracy of its drones, yet the US can’t find one guy who’s talked to several major international newspapers, or another guy dissing the White House from inside the White House. The PR solution would be obtaining the best and the brightest to fix the glitches and increase security. Maybe Snowden could provide a reference.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Vatican. The seat of Catholicism gets our top grade – but not without qualifications. Our simple advice to the new Pope? Enjoy the honeymoon. The appointment was a big PR hit, no doubt: Francis, the first Pope from the Americas and a humble man who embraces a vow of poverty, gave the Vatican the forward-thinking PR page it is looking for. But storm clouds are already gathering. His age (76) will inevitably mean his tenure is abbreviated, while rumors are already surfacing about how he allegedly turned a blind eye to torture abuses during Argentina’s military rule. A high grade for a good start, but the challenge will be staying there; just ask Pope Benedict.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the TSA. The Transportation Security Administration continues to stand by their decision to allow small knives and other potentially dangerous tools and devices aboard aircraft, despite rising hue and cry from flight attendants, passengers, and politicians. Their defense? They want to turn attention to finding the hundred larger, deadlier threats – like the stun gun one passenger packed in his carry-on baggage this week (missed by security) or the fake bomb strapped to the leg of a security agent during a test (also missed). They have a point, but it’s blunted by another, oft repeated: the 9/11 attacks were begun by box cutters that would be waved right on through with this order.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Kanye West and Justin Timberlake. Enthralled by their current imbroglio? Yeah…neither are we. For those who missed it: West, in his own inimitable and unprintable way, criticized Timberlake’s single “Suit & Tie” at a concert last month. Timberlake struck back this week while hosting Saturday Night Live by changing a line of the same song, crooning  “My hit’s so sick got rappers actin’ dramatic.” Take that, Kanye! Who knows how the unpredictable West will respond – and does anyone really care? Ho-hum. We’ve come a long way from the East Coast-West Coast rap wars of the 1990s, folks. Maybe they should, too.

TSA Safety Reversal: Turbulence Ahead

 TSA Safety Reversal: Turbulence Ahead

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the TSA.

Lately, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just can’t seem to do anything right. The agency, created after 9/11, has at various points been accused of failing to find weapons in undercover tests, conducting overzealous body searches, and allowing agents to sleep on the job. The latest snafu occurred this week, when it announced one of its most significant policy changes: it will begin allowing small knives (and various pieces of sporting equipment) aboard airplanes.

The change in the banned-items list was immediately met with harsh criticism. Pilots and flight attendants voiced the reasonable concern that allowing knives may imperil safety. Even passengers, who have chafed under the restrictive list, were disparaging. “It seems to be a poorly thought-out decision. I don’t pretend to understand the logic behind it,” Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, told the Los Angeles Times. After all, the September 11 attacks were committed with box cutters, which are smaller than the knives that will now be permitted.

For its part, the TSA noted improved safety features on airplanes since 2001 and said the change will bring it in line with international standards and allow it “to focus on threats that can cause catastrophic damage to an airplane.” It seems they’ve forgotten that small knives can, in fact, cause catastrophic damage to airplanes, and buildings, and lives.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the TSA. A poll conducted in September 2012 found that 90 percent of respondents thought the TSA was doing a “poor” or “fair” job in security screenings. This latest action won’t improve those results.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cover your bases before making a controversial announcement. Although they don’t appear to realize it, the TSA has a brand – one it’s managing very poorly. The agency’s raison d’etre is to ensure the safety of  airline personnel and the air-traveling public. The smart tactic would have been to confer with key players ahead of time and gauge their sentiment on the potential policy change. That way, they are involved in the process, can raise objections privately, and everyone is on the same page when the media comes calling. A handful of public endorsements from interested parties would have made this announcement turbulence free. As is, they should fasten their seat belts.

The New York Times and When Not To Publish

 The New York Times and When Not To Publish

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for The New York Times. (Pictured: Times editor Jill Abramson.)

When does The New York Times decide it won’t publish something on the grounds that it might impinge on national security? It’s a question the paper of record has had to address recently. An angry Congress wants clarification, as do some readers. What to say?

The controversy stems from recent articles published in the NY TImes about President Obama’s “kill list,” as well as the U.S. government’s computer virus warfare against Iran.  Obama’s critics claim the information came directly from the White House in order to bolster the President’s tough image on national security. Obama’s PR says this is dead wrong and that the President is intent on cracking down on staff leaking classified information.

The Times‘s defense? It always consults with government officials prior to publication. The paper confirms that government officials had not asked the paper to spike the two stories in question, and it rejects any suggestion that national security was endangered. “No story about details of government secrets has come near to demonstrably hurting the national security in decades and decades,” is the official quote. Case closed for The New York Times (for the moment).

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for The New York Times, whose response still keeps the decision to publish or not in the realm of a high level of discretion. Something more objective might help the debate.

PR Takeaway: Freedom of speech and public interest rest on a continuum of interest and competing concerns. The Times has chosen to portray the issues as relatively straightforward – dangerous to release, or not? Why not talk about the issue as a long continuum with transparency at one end and secrecy on the other. List and weigh factors that might have a bearing on publication. Think of it as a point system; it will undoubtedly be imperfect, but it would change the debate from a discretion-based decision to something more independent and apolitical.

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Is The New York Times releasing information that could compromise national security, or exercising the freedom of press? Give us your PR Verdict, below.