Kate Middleton in Singapore (creative commons Tom Soper Photography)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have instructed lawyers at London firm Harbottle & Lewis to start proceedings against Mondadori, publishers of Closer France, after they printed topless pictures of Kate Middleton taken while she and her husband were on a private holiday in Provence.

The images were taken by a local paparazzo photographer who sold them to the French celebrity ‘people’ magazine.

Italian gossip magazine Chi, also owned by the Berlusconi owned Mondadori group, has also published the pictures in Italy.  The same Italian magazine was at the centre of controversy in 2006 after it published a black and white picture of Princess Diana receiving oxygen after the fatal car-crash.

The royals are seeking a criminal conviction with prosecutors in Paris as the images breached France’s Criminal Code.  Punishment for a criminal prosecution can be up to a year in jail and a fine or up to €45,000.  The couple are also seeking an injunction in the civil court in Paris to ensure that no more pictures are published in print or online.

Such are the penalties for breaching privacy in France that editors and their publishers cynically factor in the fines when considering if they should run sensationalist content.  That said, with the rise of the web and the fact that one of these titles has a social media editor that hypes up the content on Twitter and other social networks that civil action could be taken in UK courts, where damages could be more substantial.

Reputation today is a cross-jurisdictional issue.  The 21st Century Reputation Consultant doesn’t just have to have understand the workings of the world wide web.  They also have to have an understanding as well as a lawyer alongside them that can build a case in the various legal jurisdictions that stories today reach.

While statements have been made by the publishers that there was nothing wrong with the publishing of the images, that is incorrect.  In France alone doing so is a criminal offence.

While there are individuals, celebrities that make a living from the gossip magazines, the signal has been sent that the Prince and Princess are not celebrities.  It is a brave move, but one that in my opinion needs to be taken.

Certainly editors should have considered the past surrounding the late Princess Diana when making a risk assessment of whether they should publish said picture package.  Common sense would have dictated that given the history the response by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is certainly not, as Closer Editor Laurence Pieau said, “disproportionate.”

Facebook moves into the spying business

Facebook announced yesterday that it had bought Israeli facial-recognition company Face.com.  Independent reports put the deal price at between $80 million and $100 million.  The move moves Facebook into ‘big-brother’ territory with technology that will be able to recognise you in not just the pictures that your friends and family take of you, but in others in which you happen to be walking by, posing yet another question about privacy for the social networking giant.

After the purchase of Instagram and the ongoing rumours that Zuckenberg is looking to enter the hardware market with a Facebook phone, it appears that the network understands the need to gather data from users that are on the move.  But, while the tagging of pictures on Facebook and Apple’s iPhone are offered to users, is this technology in the hands of Facebook a good move?

The issue of Facebook and privacy have raised numerous heated debates.  For Facebook, the more data that it has on it’s users the better that it’s able to offer ‘microtargeted’ advertising to businesses, enabling companies to better understand and shape their offerings accordingly.

Facial recognition though is a different matter.  Imagine this, you are walking down the street or through a location with plenty of tourists and see plenty of people with their iPhones and Android devices out, snapping away at their friends and family.  No doubt, you might be in the background.  The person taking the picture, uploads some of these to Facebook, which immediately recognises the individuals face – friends or family of the photographer.  What it also does, because it has a record of you, is recognise you, possibly alerting you to tag yourself or at worse, not, but keeping a record of your movements just like CCTV might do through a city location.  Where is the line drawn between what you upload and what other capture when you are passing by?

Pictures are no longer images, but data and a record of when and where you have been.  For a company like Facebook it increases it’s ability to understand you, your patterns of movement and behaviour.

I’ve always wanted to know in how many other peoples pictures I might be in the background.  Somehow, I soon might know.

Telefonica owned UK mobile operator O2 was this morning caught in a storm when a user discovered that his phone number was being sent to websites he visited when roaming through O2’s network.

System Administrator Lewis Peckover discovered the data and privacy breach when building a site and wanting to know the information that was being sent and possibly collected while browsing on a mobile network.

After alerting O2 yesterday 24 January at 15.12 through Twitter it took the mobile operator nearly four hours to ask @lewispeckover for a screenshot.  This request followed a previous tweet where the company tried to reassure him by stating that ‘the mobile number in the HTML is linked to how the site determines that your browsing from a mobile device‘.

This issue went public this morning when people bombarded O2 for answers, forcing the company to issue it’s first statement at 08.49 by stating ‘we are investigating this at the moment and will update everyone as soon as possible.’

This breach in privacy creates a massive concern not just for consumers but businesses that use O2 for data roaming as sending users numbers might enable bots to harvest these for spam.

Twitter users have already been calling for O2 to be reported to both Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office (IOC).

To check if you are affected switch to 3G and use the following script developed by Lewis Peckover to see if your own UK or International overseas cellular network sends your number.

This story is developing.

Wednesday, 25 January – 15.40: O2 has tweeted at 15.32 a statement saying, ‘We’re sorry about the concern re mobile numbers and web browsing, which is now fixed. Here’s what happened + Q&A.‘  They included a link to a Q&A in their blog: http://tfs.me/wdekaS

News International journalists have allegedly gained access to details of former-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s bank account, legal documents and even his son’s medical records by masquerading as either the former Prime Minister himself or one of his representatives.

It is alleged that News International titles have used blagging to secure personal information that was then run as headlines in select titles.

Blagging is to ‘knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data or information without the consent of the data controller.’  In plain English that means to deceive somebody to get personal information that can then be used in the press.

Because blagging is to deceive somebody to gain information the practice pulls into the story organisations that hold personal information – telephone companies, banks, building societies, utility companies, anybody.  This therefore can create a firestorm for the reputations of organisations that have been targeted by blaggers, which raises the question, are PRs ready for the questions that will be asked about data protection and privacy?

While blagging is an offence under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act it has yet to be tested in the courts.  That though is an issue for those caught of blagging.

News Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive James Murdoch this afternoon made the shock announcement of the clousure 168 year old News Of The World (#NOTW).

In what is seen as a high risk decision aimed at both ending the scandal surrounding News Of The World’s alleged phone-hacking and placating the political beasts who are calling for a ‘No’ to News International’s BSkyB deal, Murdoch and his Executives decided to sacrifice this title.

It is being reported that over 200 jobs will be culled in the clousure, with the offer being made to staff to reapply for work within News International. This of course has raised the question of if the decision is just a PR masterstroke to push through News Corporation’s desire to secure the BSkyB deal. It equally raises the question of why Rebekah Brooks still in her job, given that she was Editor of the title during the Milly Dowler phone-hacking.

Since it was made public that journalists had hacked into people’s phones, social media channels vocalised their disgust at the News Of The World with many thousands targeting companies, calling on them to remove their advertising from the title.

This is a going to be a text book PR case study of HOW NOT to manage a crisis and solve the reputation of an established news outlet.

Excuse after excuse has cost the jobs of many journalists just so News International can gain full ownership of BSkyB.

Of course, is there a Sunday Sun on the way? Well, On Tuesday 5 July 2011 – two days ago, the Sun On Sunday UK domain was registered (Registered by News International), so, we’ll have to wait and see!