A Policy of Mixed Messages

Privacy Pledges are a common artifact of life online today. Commercial and non-commercial websites, online banking systems, and social media communities often craft intricate legal prose deliniating the extent to which their purveyors may go to protect you should you use their services.  But what do they really say?  While many begin with a strong statement of confidence like, "we are committed to your privacy," quickly they degenerate into a litany of exceptions, exclusions and qualifications.  Meandering purposefully around in a sea of legalities, they ironically undermine their stated reason for being.  They offer evidence of a disconnect between the needs and interests of the organization and its customers, donors, association members, or other website visitors. They also demonstrate one stumbling block over which organizations trip as they earnestly talk about their communication strategy in terms of authenticity and trust, while reflexively bowing to other institutional requirements.

Geekily reading a recent privacy pledge, I found myself laughing -- almost aloud -- as its text explained the extent of the company's commitment to me, their valued customer.  "We will not disclose your personal information to anyone outside [company name excluded] unless... we are legally permitted to do so."  My amusement came, not from the entertaining irony that pulsed in these dry words, but from my discomfort in hearing them.  Is this is the kind of trust and authenticity their communication strategists intended to cultivate as they developed their website, social media campaigns and other online tools?

Of course, a key lesson in today's ubiquitous privacy policy connundrum is that maintaining a sense of authenticity and trust is a full time job.  Whether posting a story, tweeting a thought, listening to the wisdom of the crowds, asking for money, or making a commitment to online friends and followers, the values a company, nonprofit or association must be ever-present in their communications -- no exceptions.  Lack of consistency in word and deed undermines the messages that thoughtful communicators work so hard to craft.