The walls have ears: why confidentiality is essential
Nothing can ruin a business faster than a breach of privacy. Your data is important, whether you are a big company, a new employee, or a private citizen.
This colourful infographic at Information Is Beautiful shows a timeline from 2004 onwards, demonstrating that most data losses were due to hacks, poor security and even accidentally publishing data.
Information hygiene is increasingly important in our networked world - a sensible approach can ensure a good reputation for your business, strong relationships inside and outside the company, and consumer confidence.
While secrecy can be harmful and impede progress in business sometimes, confidentiality is nonetheless one of the most important qualities to cultivate in a business relationship.
Unless you can guarantee confidentiality (such as not publishing private data), your clients, colleagues and your company may find it hard to develop and build trust in you.
We've looked before at how to handle business information while in public; confidentiality is an important cornerstone of professional culture to build trust, and contribute towards business growth and success.
Data can be operationally sensitive, or structurally sensitive - relating to how your company does business, or how it is formed. Any company you work for should have information which can easily be shared with anyone who enquires - details such as the company's mission statement, its core values, or its principles of incorporation.
Some information is publicly available - details of turnover, senior executives and employees can often be checked on Companies House in the UK, and specific details can be requested via a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request via the UK Government.
If you want to know what legal obligations your employer has towards you in the UK, have a look at your Employee Privacy Rights online.
Often referred to as “proprietary information” or “trade secrets”, this can be anything from recipes to internal policy documents, to lists of client information, to potential leads in a sales environment.
Anything considered proprietary by your business or employer must be carefully protected. If it would be illegal or improper for this information to be obtained by a rival firm or individual, it is your duty to safeguard it. While what is illegal is often clear, what is improper is less so.
In industry, manufacturing processes and methods are viewed as proprietary. In financial services, this can include items such as business plans, financial data or budgets. In a tech company, computer programs, coding languages and specific hardware components may be viewed as intellectual property, and therefore subject to secrecy.