In today’s world, the words Information Management get used broadly and frequently. They are often used interchangeably with terms like Data Management and Information Security. In my opinion, the clearest definition I’ve seen of Information Management is from Wikipedia, which describes it as:
The collection and management of information from one or more sources and the distribution of that information to one or more audiences. This sometimes involves those who have a stake in, or a right to that information. Management means the organization of and control over the structure, processing and delivery of information.
Information is everywhere. We use information to make decisions, observe trends, communicate in a variety of ways, and it acts as a tool for people to understand the world around them. There are countless benefits and advantages to living in a world where information is exchanged more rapidly and in a wider variety of formats. Having essentially unlimited access to information, it is critical for organizations to have rigid programs in place to ensure responsible and accurate collection and distribution of it.
This all leads to the question: What happens when an organization does not Manage Information responsibly?
Most people are aware of the criticism Facebook has faced over the last year related to how they were utilizing individual’s personal information to aim targeted ads at millions of users. This is a classic example of collecting information from one or more sources and distributing to one or more audiences. I think most people would agree that targeted advertising isn’t inherently wrong and is a well-accepted practice in today’s marketing strategies, but what happens when people whose information is being collected and used don’t really understand what’s going on behind the scenes?
The Facebook scandal involved personally identifiable information from almost 100 million users that began being collected in 2014 by a company called Cambridge Analytica. It was reported that Cambridge Analytica was then selling this information to different political groups, who used the information to influence voter opinion. According to some sources, a few hundred thousand Facebook users agreed to take a quiz on Facebook for academic use through an application called “This is Your Digital Life.” As with most Facebook surveys, the user was required to consent for their information to be collected. One of the issues is that Facebook’s design allowed the application to collect data from every other person within the quiz taker’s social profile. Even if the user had a full understanding of what information was being collected from them, there was no indication that it would impact their friends who may not have even know the quiz existed.
I don’t share this story to aim blame at any single company or person. I also don’t claim to have a complete understanding of what transpired and what allegations were proven to be true. I share it to exemplify just how important having a robust information management strategy and oversight is, and how quickly mismanaged information can be used for harm. It is critical for all parties who have a stake in the process to understand how it is all tied together, and that is where real Information Management techniques and programs become necessary and invaluable. Properly managing information can help your organization avoid situations like this.