Data misuse is a large concern for the American public, and this rather negative outlook is healthy considering the circumstances. After recent scandals like the Yahoo! data breach in 2016 and Facebook’s data-sharing deal in 2018, the public is ready for some protective measures.

I remember the first time I was really, legitimately scared about my lack of data privacy. For many in my generation, this scare came when Mark Zuckerberg sold the personal data behind nearly 50 million undisclosed Facebook profiles to Cambridge Analytica. Regardless of Cambridge Analytica’s seemingly innocent intent to use this data to better target advertisements, this scandal was the first time that I realized my data could be sold non-consensually.

My shock, and the shock of many others, is being recognized by leading marketers across the country. ClickFox CMO Joe Gavin said, “Consumers do not forget negative experiences, whether it’s a data breach or lousy in-store experience. They’ll continue to resist sharing their data with retailers and may opt out of promotional campaigns until they see the personal and immediate benefits of doing so.”

As time passes, consumers are losing faith in the security of their personal data, as well as support for the large institutions who cannot ensure the protection that they want. A recent Nielsen study concluded that data privacy is important to 52% of Americans, with 32% saying it is as important to them as their physical protection. The high importance of data privacy is apparent, however many still cannot fathom how to overcome this problem.

Companies must be aware of the fact that their data, just like any other individual’s, is up for grabs by any skilled hacker. By now, all companies should have established preventative measures to enhance their cybersecurity. This includes keeping all in-house information up to date, using unique passwords, backing up all data, and enabling multifactor authentication. With all of these factors in play, however, once can still fall victim to the next high-profile data breach.

At this point you may be asking how the public relations industry plays a role in data privacy. In today’s world, data breaches are essentially inevitable. While public relations professionals do not have any means to stop data theft, they can assist companies in maintaining the loyalty of their customers after a data breach. With an effective crisis plan in place, corporations will understand how to communicate the breach to their customers, as well as what recovery steps to take next.

Establishing a support team of public relations professionals will ensure that no company is wrongly put out of business for a data breach that they couldn’t prevent. It’s no secret that companies are using our data; however, it will continue to feel like one until they are willing to be more transparent. If major corporations begin disclosing explicitly what data they take from people and why they want it, they will slowly earn back the loyalty and patronage of their previously resistant customers.

Most modern communications professionals can agree that data misuse is a major contribution to the American public’s distress. In the coming years, public relations practitioners will be responsible for rebuilding public trust in the institutions that previously wronged them. By meeting societal demands for authentic and transparent communication, as well as coping with the negative effects of digital evolution and social media, the public relations industry will play an integral role in ending data privacy concerns.

-Kristen Koch