Carys Whomsley takes a few minutes to talk about her work in digital profile management, discussing the complexities for UHNWIs, senior leaders and high-profile families in ensuring they stay protected online in terms of their security and their reputation.
I started my career in corporate investigations, carrying out due diligence investigations on behalf of banks and investment management firms. I focused primarily on financial crime and compliance, and identifying information pointing to the potential for a business relationship to be damaging. I also carried out litigation support investigations on behalf of law firms in commercial and fraud disputes. This required a vast amount of open-source analysis and a knowledge of how to unearth information that the subjects may have believed to be hidden.
On joining Digitalis, I applied this experience to the range of investigation services we offer, expanding our team and resource base to meet the growth in open-source research, and understanding how to extract as much information as possible from open-source searches.
While this allows us to help our clients in litigation support, for example by gathering digital evidence, it also enables us to understand the modus operandi of hostile groups and individuals exploiting online information to harm others. This information can be used by stalkers, criminals, researchers, or hostile journalists looking for material for a smear campaign or aggressive activity.
The purpose of our reputation audits is to identify information online (on both the surface and deep web) which in the wrong hands could lead to invasions of privacy or security, or cause reputational damage.
First we conduct a thorough collection process to identify and establish all relevant content using our proprietary technology. As well as the subject of the report, we look for information about any person or entity that could also be targeted to reach them.
We then carry out a manual analysis of the content, following the methodology of investigative journalists and the modus operandi of hostile actors, to establish the content of concern. As this is a constantly shifting landscape, we have to remain at the forefront of emerging trends, identifying new methods and technologies to facilitate the discovery of key information, as well as any topics remaining of significant interest to important external parties, ranging from established media publications to decentralised activist groups.
Once we have gathered all the content, we provide an analysis to explain how and why this information could be exploited. We give recommendations on how to mitigate the risks – often through privacy and security measures, removal and redactions, training, and preparation of communications. Finally, we advise the client on ways to minimise and manage any future risks.
We carry out reputation audits for a broad range of clients who are experiencing or expecting increased media scrutiny. This includes high-profile families, growing companies with an IPO in their sights, newly-appointed C-Suite executives, and senior leaders of large corporates, as well as authors, influencers and other public figures finding themselves at the centre of increased media interest.
Our clients face a variety of challenges in terms of reputation. Public expectations of people in prominent positions are high, and the public is often unforgiving of flaws and missteps, which can have major ramifications on trust and perception. The perception of what is considered acceptable by the public is constantly evolving, adding to the complexity of this challenge. Influential people are expected to be increasingly more accountable, and are subject to more public scrutiny than ever before.
I take a huge interest in these developments in a time when governance, ethics and reputation are gaining increasing weight in influencing business decisions. I enjoy supporting people who have suddenly found themselves in an influential position, and need a guiding hand to navigate their way through these issues: being able to help people at a difficult time for them is hugely rewarding.
We have seen a significant increase in clients seeking to understand how any links to Russia might be perceived and reported on, despite absolutely no wrongdoing on their part. As approaches to governance, ethics and compliance continually develop in response to major events, many companies and individuals who carefully selected their associations years ago, based on the reputational or compliance issues at the time, have found that these may fall short of today’s values. Examining their associations has risen to the top of the agenda for these clients.
Individuals with significant wealth continue to be considered “fair game” by journalists, with invasions of privacy often carried out under the guise of legitimate public interest. Stories often seek to present successful people or organisations as hypocritical, and individuals linked to any entity of national significance are often targeted – for example, companies which are strategically important to Britain, or individuals representing Britain in sporting events. Ethnic minorities and foreign individuals with residences in the UK are sadly the subject of the most intense and vicious press in this regard – as seen, for example, in the way the media reported footballer Marcus Rashford’s purchase of properties in the UK following his campaigning for free school meals.
Individuals who are part of traditionally influential families are similarly seen as worthy of media interest, with their personal lives and business endeavours continually reported on in the context of historic issues that they had no part in.
Separately, social media remains a key vulnerability, with individuals often unaware of how much their profiles (and those of family members) enable others to find out about them. A good example of this is running and fitness apps such as Strava: people are often unaware that their running app data is not only publicly visible, but allows anyone with an account to easily calculate where they live, track their movements and work out their daily routines.
More and more aspects of life now have an online element, and with the launch of the Metaverse, we can predict a range of new reputational considerations to emerge. We are only just starting to make sense of this new virtual world and have a limited understanding of the extent to which information about us could be exploited. We are already, however, starting to see the vulnerabilities it presents – particularly in relation to digital transactions, which mostly occur through cryptocurrencies or NFTs.
Digital transactions of this sort can present legal and reputational challenges. There are financial crime and compliance considerations, and also risks related to perceived value, security, server issues, copyright and a variety of complications that could lead to legal disputes in future. We will continue to monitor the implications of the Metaverse closely, particularly in relation to security and reputational risks, as the platform evolves.