Online Reputation Management Blog

HIPPA Requirements Pose Problems for Applications Developers

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The healthcare industry is only one of many fields that has begun using mobile applications and other technology to improve communications and the use of data. Many American biobanks, for instance, are now investing in software that allows them to manage and share the more than 300 million tissue samples in their systems, increasing the chances the information can be used to create new therapies and treatments.

As interesting as this is, however, you will likely be more familiar with how doctors are using mobile apps and technology to interact with their patients and promote healthier choices. Whether your doctor has recommended that you buy a Fitbit to help you track your exercise or you have noticed your doctor jotting something down on Evernote, there is no doubt that smart technology is becoming a common tool for people concerned with their health. But what if those devices and apps fell under the protection of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)? Would this change how we were able to use them, or even how they were created?

HIPPA is designed to safeguard protected health information, or PHI. PHI is defined as information that must be personally identifiable data, which is created, used or disclosed during the process of health care, such as a diagnosis or treatment. For this reason, covered entities, which include doctors, clinics, and insurance companies, are naturally required to be compliant with HIPPA standards. However, following an update in September 2013, people or entities that perform certain functions or activities which assist covered entities are also subject to HIPPA. As a result, application developers may fall into this group without even being aware.

Take Evernote as an example: if a patient uses the app to take notes on their diet, exercise, medication or other information and then shares the information with their physician to help them make changes, the app is technically being used for PHI and must be HIPPA compliant, even if it was not intended for that purpose. This would require the application developers to adhere to a number of physical, technical and administrative safeguards to avoid substantial penalties.

But following these guidelines isn’t as easy as it might sound. While other data security standards, such as those for payment cards, specifically list what individuals and businesses must do to be compliant, HIPPA generally requires entities to follow certain steps where “reasonable and appropriate.” This makes it difficult to determine which steps should be followed in different situations. To make matters worse, there is no official certification for HIPPA compliance, which means companies cannot be recognized as adhering to the standards. Thus, even accidental violations will likely only be discovered if the entity is audited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the same group that imposes the fines.

In response to this uncertain terrain, application developers are turning to a number of different options to ensure their products are HIPPA-compliant. Many are choosing to hire services like TrueVault, a protected database that has been designed to meet HIPPA standards. Similarly, companies like Google and Apple have begun designing their own usage terms, protocols and policies to keep PHI off of their databases; the App Store even states it will reject apps that attempt to use the HealthKit programming interface to store users’ health information on iCloud. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for developers who use APIs like Google and Apple to create health-based apps that are HIPPA-compliant.

Currently, applications developers, healthcare providers, and policy experts are trying to determine the best ways to ensure modern technology follows security standards set for medical information. How can compliance be shared between databases and companies, for example? How can users be protected? The answers aren’t always clear or easy. But as apps and devices continue to appear, the need for new decisions and innovation is clear.

The Death of the Press Release Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Death of the Press ReleaseTo borrow (quite liberally) from the inimitable Mark Twain, the death of the press release has been greatly exaggerated.   Press releases have historically been a key tool for attracting favorable media attention, shaping public perception, highlighting events or professional achievements and increasing brand awareness via media.

The first press release, authored by PR specialist Ivy Lee on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, offered an account of a fatal train derailment that occurred on October 28, 1906.  As a form of damage control, Lee shared the press release was shared with journalists at the scene of the accident.  The press release was also published by the New York Times two days later, in its entirety.  How is that for influence?

The press release, as a tool for shaping public opinion and disseminating news, albeit with some spin, was born.

Fast forward nearly a century.  The Internet revolution disrupted nearly a century of public relations strategy and tactics by disaggregating news distribution from traditional print, radio and television media.  Today individuals and companies are empowered to share real-time news updates online via a company blog, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social channels – sometimes to an even greater PR effect.

Amid persistent reports of falling newspaper circulation (and falling newspapers), declining TV news viewership, diminished radio reach, consolidation in the broadcast communications industry, pundits wondered aloud whether press releases were dead.  Even the Public Relations Society of America, representing 21,000 public relations and communications professionals across the United States, published an article last spring bemoaning the end of the press release.

Google also launched an assault on press releases and the presumption of weak content or over- optimization by SEO firms with the recent Panda 4.0 algorithm change on May 20, 2014.  Barry Schwartz, an SEO expert and Search Engine Land contributor, published a widely shared article asking whether Google was specifically targeting press release sites, noting that a number of well-known  premium press release distribution sites saw Google visibility drop between 60 and 70 percent after Panda 4.0.

With alternate channels for distribution of real-time news and announcements, declining visibility and widespread reports of the press release’s imminent demise, the question remains: Are press releases dead?

The answer is NO.

For small and midsize businesses, the press release is still the preferred and usually the only channel for garnering widespread coverage across a wide range of news sources, from print and broadcast media, trade journals, websites (including Yahoo!,, CNet News, Forbes & and social media.

Small businesses do need to have reasonable expectations about what to expect from a press release.

In the absence of significant breaking news, don’t expect the phone to be ringing off the hook with reporters looking to turn your press release into a news story.  However, many of our clients have successfully followed up a press release with targeted media outreach and parlayed the press release into future news coverage.

Targeted media outreach doesn’t mean a mass email indiscriminately sent to a list of journalists.  I’m talking about a phone call or a customized email to one reporter at a time, pitching story ideas about their company, client or competitors in real-time, using the press release as an introduction for a news story.

For larger companies, even those that have an in-house marketing/communications department or press liaison, access to PR firms and consultants and a rolodex of journalist contacts, the much-maligned press release is still relevant.  Larger companies publish a press release to garner near-certain same-day Google Page 1 media coverage.  The press release is also still a preferred format for highlighting new hires and industry-specific news that may not be of interest to a consumer or general interest news audience and serves as a multichannel complement to a broader corporate messaging initiative that may include advertising, social media marketing and other promotional activities.

And although the SEO value is diminished, third-party sites that republish the press release, in whole or in part, sometimes include “do follow” links even if the press release distribution site did not.

If press releases are still alive and relevant, are they worth the money?  Most press release distribution companies charge for base story distribution, and then charge additional for video, images, expanded reach to social media distribution channels and prominent journalists.  The average price for a premium press release ranges from $299 -$500 for 400-word press releases.

The price-value gap has left an opening for upstarts seeking to provide a better service at a lower price.  Qamar Zaman, founder and CEO of Submit Press Release 123, launched a low-price press release service starting at only $10.

“Using the concept of ‘frugal innovation’ we stripped out what’s not needed and added only what is essential for exposure and brand building, says Zaman, “leveraging high traffic web newswires, social media, video, and using the right terms and phrases to get the right reads, we packaged a product called KISS, which stands for ‘Keep it Simple for Searcher’ by identifying search intent on Twitter and helping businesses improve conversion (with their press release).”

By focusing on relevancy, reach and conversion, rather than relying on press releases as the primary medium for disseminating news, PR and communications professionals and business owners can benefit from some of the clear advantages of a press release for a reasonable price and steer clear from the “anything goes” free press release sites that proliferated until Google devalued these sites almost completely with the Panda and Penguin updates.

The modern press release may serve a somewhat different role in today’s communications playbook, but it’s still very much alive and kicking!

Home Automation Products Are the Next Big Tech Thing

Cahan You Feel the Excitement? Yahoo!’s New Point Man On Mobile Apps


Yahoo!’s recent innovations cover many activeAdam-Cahan fields in technology, including one of the fastest-growing sectors in the business: mobile apps.

Three years ago, Yahoo!’s newly-appointed CEO, Marissa Mayer, decided to shake things up at the company. One of the first things she did was bring new talent onboard. Adam Cahan was one of those talents. Cahan, a graduate of Brown University and a former filmmaker at National Geographic, was chosen by Mayer as Yahoo!’s Senior Vice President of Mobile and Emerging Products. His overall mission is to improve and expand Yahoo!’s global mobile services, such as its apps for mobile and tablet devices, the image and video hosting site Flickr, and Yahoo!’s Smart TV.

When Cahan started his new job in 2012, Yahoo!’s mobile department only had 50 employees in a company of more than 13,000 people. According to him, mobile apps weren’t taken that seriously, or at least seriously enough. “The challenge was that mobile was an afterthought at the time,” he said. “It was, ‘Hey, I have all this work that I need to do and, oh, mobile.’ It was like the finishing part of a sentence as an add-on, rather than a strategy.”

Cahan immediately got to work changing that strategy. First, he expanded his department’s size and increased collaborative efforts in the office. Second, he placed emphasis on user experience rather than profit losses. He instructed his engineering team to simplify and rebuild mobile apps such as Yahoo!’s weather, finance, and email apps, in order to make them more accessible and efficient. Efficiency, in particular, was important to him, as it allows users to get more done and, more importantly, to use the app more often.

This retooling of the mobile department had a profound impact on Yahoo!. Not only has Yahoo! gained more than 400 million new mobile app users since he took over, the mobile department alone grossed an outstanding $1.2 billion in revenue in 2014.

Cahan’s efforts reflect the growing influence mobile apps have on overall technology use. For example, global mobile traffic now represents roughly 13% of Internet traffic. Of that traffic, 80% is done through mobile apps. Global mobile app revenues reached $30 billion last year and is expected to grow from there. Yahoo!’s and Cahan’s emphasis on mobile apps and services is one of the latest innovations the tech industry must get accustomed to.

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These days much of what we do is connected in some way to technology. Our communication, recreation, and work are predominately done through the use of technology, and now our homes are also starting to fall under that umbrella.

Home automation systems are one of the next big things in the tech world. Not only do they allow homeowners the ability to control parts of their home with the tap of a touchscreen (which people love), but they also promote safety in the home, since these automation systems are often connected to smoke detectors and locks.

The shift to home automation technology isn’t going to be a tough one. In fact, companies that have traditionally focused on one part of home goods, like lock sets for example, have moved deftly into the home automation market.

One of the most recent advancements in home automation technology comes from Honeywell. The company’s Lyric system, which was released last year, is a dynamic thermostat, but the newest from Honeywell is much more advanced.

The system, which is still called Lyric, is now a home security system that features cameras, motion detection, and smoke and intruder alarms.

“We have researched and surveyed thousands of consumers,” said Inder Reddy, President of Honeywell Security Products Americas, according to Security Info Watch. “While many may have had different words to explain it, their concern for the security and safety of their homes consistently came out. They are looking for that dimension of using their security and safety system to manage their lifestyle.”

Honeywell isn’t the only company on the home automation scene, however. Of course, everyone’s favorite tech giant, Apple, has developed something called HomeKit.

HomeKit is basically a technology that allows people to control lights and appliances in their homes through the use of a mobile app. HomeKit isn’t actually a system like Lyric, but allows different home automation products to all be integrated for greater ease of use. Users do, of course, need an iPhone or iPad.