Major Tech Brands Scramble to Maintain Public Trust in Wake of NSA Scandal

PR experts know that trust is the emotional and intellectual equivalent of gold. It takes brands enormous amounts of time, energy and money to build trust with the public.

For technology brands Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo—brands that customers entrust with their personal information and private thoughts—cultivating and nurturing that tenuous but critical bond with the public is imperative to survival. Make no mistake: these tech brands are worried about the fallout from the recent controversy over the National Security Agency’s rampant surveillance program.

This is an epic public relations story. Americans understand the need for security and want the government to do everything within its legal powers to ensure our families, culture and values are safe. But our society’s values also demand an uncompromising respect for personal privacy and human dignity. Amid this volatile clash of priorities are the technologies that exist between the public and our families, friends, jobs, bank accounts, personal vices, political views, religious beliefs, sexual preferences and our very individual humanity.

Upon learning that the U.S. Government, via a program named PRISM, monitored foreigners, citizens and residents—really, who else is there?—via information provided by the popular aforementioned tech brands, the public took a huge mental step back. It’s like we all a came home early and found our spouse’s underwear on the kitchen floor. This is completely unwanted and unexpected information, but we’re hoping a simple explanation will restore our faith in the relationship.

From a public relations perspective, this is precarious territory. So Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo are hoping the NSA will allow them to give the public a much-needed explanation of what happened and why. We just don’t like how this looks, and we’re worried. Who, exactly, knows what about us? Can the public ever fully trust these brands again? And what does this breach of faith mean to Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo if the public suddenly reigns in their personal information, which is coveted by life-giving advertisers?

We’re all about to witness the power of transparency in public relations. Any industry experts care to offer an assessment of the winners and losers as this plays out? Let us know.