Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) is an emerging area of interest for organisations. It blends ethics and governance issues with consideration for how they apply within the digital domain. CDR has moved up the corporate agenda in the past two years because of the growth of digital technology. High-profile security and technology failures by organisations have put CDR in the spotlight.

In the past, marketing departments were the sole operators of data and digital technologies. Today, whole businesses are built on data and digital content.  It’s used for hyper-targeting, behaviour change and many more business-critical functions. This action creates a fundamental tension between organisations and society. Customers feel overwhelmed by terms and conditions and manipulated by companies that use their data. Meanwhile, social responsibility is a growing concern for customers.

Risk Issues in Corporate Digital Responsibility

High-profile CDR failures have put digital ethics on the corporate agenda. A 2016 cyber attack at the UK Post Office left personal data vulnerable to exploitation. In 2019, managers removed facial recognition systems from King’s Cross Station after protests. In 2021, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (Orcha) found that only one in five apps meets clinical standards of data integrity. Innovation in data and digital technologies often leads to conflict with regulation.

When individuals share their personal data with an organisation, they expect it to be handled securely. However, data breaches or leaks have become commonplace. Facebook is under investigation for a possible breach of EU privacy laws after the sharing of 533 million users’ data.

Defining Corporate Digital Responsibility

The rapid digital transformation of modern organisations requires responsible action on technology. That means upgrades to corporate governance and organisational practices. CDR describes the duties businesses need to embrace to manage data and digital technologies ethically. It’s corporate social responsibility for the digital world.

Data and digital can address the world’s most pressing issues like climate change, diversity, and sustainability. But misuse of data can cause serious harm, from financial damage to breaches of personal privacy. These effects have consequences for organisations’ reputations as well as their bottom-lines. The responsible use of technology is today a strategic issue.

Responsibility for CDR within an organisation

In most organisations, CDR falls into gaps between the responsibilities of the executive team. Whilst this is the case, the risks and opportunities presented by digital will remain misunderstood. Much like financial forecasting and organisational design, CDR is a strategic rather than a tactical matter.

Ultimate responsibility for CDR must lie with the CEO or managing director. But they also need the backing of the board and support from experts both within and outside their organisations. From the CTO to the CDO, CFO and HR Director, data and digital is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone within an organisation should consider it to be part of their role and work to build a culture of CDR.

Developing a CDR governance framework

The relationship between data, digital and trust is explicit. For example, there is a growing understanding of the value of data and its application. The public understands the need to share data so that organisations can understand their needs. It’s part of the process of accessing goods and services that are relevant to them. In return, they expect that data will be managed carefully and used honourably. It’s a value exchange underpinned by trust.

Prudent data management is critical to maintaining trust between organisations and stakeholders. Yet the appreciation of this area as an emerging area of corporate governance is latent. Organisations need a framework underpinned by ethics to describe the impact of their technology.

Governance frameworks must take a comprehensive approach to manage their impact on society. From search data to cookies, privacy policy and access to personal data, businesses have a range of vulnerabilities. Businesses need a broad range of ethical and technological solutions.

The role of the communication function

Communications professionals are often left to clean up the mess when an organisation faces a data breach. Most often, they’re also left out of the loop when key decisions are made around data management and processing. Comms experts have a responsibility to develop an understanding of ethical digital issues. Moreover, they must be considered key stakeholders in the decision-making process. Otherwise, they won’t be able to offer the best possible support.

Further information: CDR briefing paper and webinar

For those struggling to navigate this new area of professional practice, Allegory has published a briefing paper on CDR. You can download it via this link. And don’t forget, you can always contact us if you have questions about the responsible use of technology.

Contact: Caroline Armstrong

Phone: 07799 18644

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