Crisis Tech PR: Contrition, Yes. Defensiveness, No.


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In the old world of technology, you might not have thought twice about suing someone who hacked into your product. But in a world of increasingly open information — and commensurate expectations — Sony’s decision to do just that spiraled into a PR and operational nightmare. New media perspective: 1; old school values: 0. Let’s review.

Back in 2010, an incredibly smart kid named George Hotz hacked the PS3 and shared the source key online. Having previously hacked the iPhone, Hotz was no stranger to notoriety, and in some sense seemed to view his “work” as a kind of creative job application, noting that he’d love to work with companies like Sony on better security. But instead of engaging with their destructive little fan, Sony went on the old-fashioned offensive. Very bad move.

Sony sued Hotz, throwing the weight of a multibillion dollar corporation against the full force of a kid from New Jersey, who responded with a foul-mouthed rap and surprising backbone. By the time the case was settled (and Hotz banned from hacking Sony products) the 21-year old was a folk hero who was boycotting Sony. Um, victory?

Sony is of course now embroiled in another hacking disaster, with unknown attackers gaining access to the private information of over 100 million online gaming customers. (While some have accused Hotz supporters Anonymous, it seems likely that that this round is motivated by profit, not outrage.) And how does the gaming giant look? Embattled, defensive, contrite. I applaud the latter, but the first two are a communications and business problem. Mature confidence, from Hotz on, might have put Sony on better footing for its latest battle.

What if, instead of plunging into litigation, and demanding not just access to Hotz’s equipment, but also to Google, Twitter, and PayPal records, Sony had brought a brilliant kid into the fold? Might Hotz’s clearly innovative and out-of-the-box thinking have helped prevent what’s been referred to as the Fukushima of privacy? We’ll never know, but the question raises an interesting point about technology and agility that relates deeply to a company’s openness — or lack thereof.

So much genius happens at the margins. Zuckerberg in college. Dorsey on a playground. Ive toiling away in a pre-Jobs-return Apple basement. Established companies can do amazing things — but the surprises keep coming from the little guy, working in obscurity until his idea explodes. The same revolution in openness that enables communication success can and should fuel and invite business evolution that allows the big guys to see opportunities where once they saw lawsuits.

By being willing to talk, the corporation profits and creativity thrives. Now there’s a story.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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