Putting a new face on privacy

In February 2010, Facebook reached 400 million active users. During the same month, there were 32 million apartment dwellers in America according to the U.S. Census projections. One might wonder what percentage of our residents are active Facebook users, and how much of our community information is finding its way into this simple user content and personal posts. Inquiry to Facebook went unanswered.

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As a business enterprise, communities must consider potential breaches of privacy and security on the Internet and extended mobile networks, as well as the exposure generated by our full user base including employees and residents.

Getting a clear picture on legitimate user statistics will continue to go unfulfilled until Websites such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Foursquare or Blog Spot mature to a point of monetizing their reach, and begin marketing because the investment community is no longer interested. While we can’t rely on direct support from these social centers, there are ways to keep consumers and team members protected.

Just as our industry must establish corporate and community policies and procedures to keep our properties safe and secure, our professional teams must establish systems of common sense practice when interacting with electronic peers.

Internet technology spans different platforms for communications, including both private and public wireless broadband, along with mobile interfaces and Internet Protocol telephony. Each system requires end-user awareness of privacy programs and security handling procedures.

As technology continues to become ubiquitous to our society, our sensitivity to safety lowers, and mistakes are frequently made. Such human nature gets even more adventuresome as our younger population doesn’t think twice about confidential information being posted in a public forum, let alone employer liability due to their actions.

The depth of such an event was recently addressed by Eric Schmidt, president of Google, Inc. when he told the Wall Street Journal, “Let’s say you’re walking down the street. Because of the information Google has collected about you, we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are. Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are.”

When dealing with employees at work and off-the-clock, simple corporate guidance and training is cost-effective, even necessary for fiscal survival. Incorporating a signed privacy policy for online and offline communications is the best way to control innocent, yet derogatory posts, as well as unwanted behavior from unscrupulous, sometimes-terminated employees.

Discourage employees from using personal email addresses when conducting company communications or Internet-based messaging. This will keep their professional identity affiliated with the company. Email records saved for a lengthened tenure will allow for monitoring and coaching if necessary, while providing records if a security concern arises.

Review risk management ideologies when allowing personal cell phone use during company time: Checking into Foursquare at work might trigger a concern with an old romantic or employee relationship.

Harris Interactive recently published a survey stating that employees openly admitted they would take company data, customer data and product plans when leaving a job. Making inquiry of the social sites in which a job candidate participates is a great way to vet a future employee. Adding an employee confidentiality agreement to each new hire packet sets the tone for management ideologies on corporate privacy.

A quick departure letter from the corporate attorney that includes a reminder of the privacy agreement might go a long way when disgruntled employees entertain thoughts of such negative activity.

Creating a safer, friendlier community online and onsite, is relatively easy to implement. Posting a Website privacy policy will confirm such priorities to your residents, allowing them to use your services without fear of reprisal.

Issuing community-based cell phones and wireless devices, such as iPads or netbooks, will allow for security settings such as login keys, disabled GPS tracking, prohibition of unauthorized apps and exclusive company-related communications.

Screen capture tracking or content controls will keep roaming eyes and fingers off-line during weekends when management oversight is not available. Communities must install property-based access and network controls to prohibit the resident computer center or wireless network from accessing interoffice domain computers and data centers.

Wireless routers absolutely must include enabled encryption settings and password protected authentication to prohibit snooping parties from crawling personal data and network Mac addresses.

This was recently elevated to the public spotlight when Google admitted to intercepting unsecured wireless content while completing their street view photography and street mapping. It is good practice to use separate computers for social networking and corporate financial management, especially since key stroke recording Trojans are regularly distributed through infected cross scripting posts on social sites such as Facebook or Xenga.

Residents pose an interesting query to this discussion. We need to them to buy our product, use our community amenities, engage in our technology all while sharing with their friends on how great we are.

Well, at least we hope so. The power of the disenchanted resident is multiplied greatly since the inception of the Internet and social networks enflame this potential exponentially.

Before, pest control was a valued service, today a requirement. One roach can a consumer post, as well as the Facebook image representing your apartment community.

The rules of resident communications have changed over the last year. If we do not proactively engage in online social messaging before the lease is signed, it will be far harder to open that channel once they publicly chastise us for how we handled their concern.

Operating in reactive mode with echo-boomer-renters will result in competitive and economic loss, as virtual social relationships are just as important to this apartment-dweller and live interaction. Implementing insightful Gen Y leasing and Internet knowledge delivers in high scores when it comes to 24-hour resident services, but successful only when operated in a protected environment.

Sure. This type of stuff is new to us as executives, but look at it this way: apartment management has been around for the past thirty years and much remains the same. The Internet’s been around for a couple of decades, and with the speed of change at millennial exchange, so no wonder we struggle. Applying core professional insight will keep any management company and its associates out of harm’s way, but processes and procedures must be with 100 percent compliance. Remember the bad guys only need one opening, no matter how small, to ruin a good thing for everyone.