A Queensland Apple store has fired several employees and is conducting an investigation after staff members were caught lifting photographs from customers’ iPhones and taking photos of female staff and customers to rank them in what is being labelled a “photo sharing ring” – but policing staff behaviour when it comes to privacy is difficult, say experts.
News Corp reports the Apple shop in Carindale, Queensland, has been investigating the incident after a staff member saw an Apple technician looking through a customer’s phone in the repair room. According to the report, more than 100 photos of women were shared amongst the employees, who would post the images on a social platform and give them a ranking out of 10.
In a statement to News, Apple confirmed an investigation, saying: “We are investigating a violation of Apple’s business conduct policy at our store in Carindale, where several employees have already been terminated as a result of our findings”.
The situation raises several privacy and customer confidence issues, and while it is believed to be an isolated case, human resources and legal experts have told SmartCompany a situation like this throws up a number of potential problems for a company.
“In terms of taking photos themselves, that one is a really difficult issue,” Holding Redlich general counsel Lyn Nicholson told SmartCompany.
“If you think about it, if you’re in a store, people are constantly using phones and taking photos to see if it’s working.”
While the situation in question is very difficult to police, it comes down to ensuring the privacy policies that are written down actually get adhered to in practice.
Nicholson says it’s likely the case would pique the interest of the federal Privacy Commissioner, and it was important for Apple to trace where the policies let customers down.
“The first thing you would need to do is look at what is the procedure and where did it fail,” she says.
Establishing expectations when recruiting
Cases of employees acting in ways that contravene a company’s policies also raises questions around recruitment and cultural fit. Founder of SME consultancy Dare Australia Group, Sue Parker, says all businesses need to think about how they do reference checks to ensure that staff are a good fit from the outset.
“My feeling is that Apple need to personally not just have a cultural fit – but how are they then actually verifying integrity?” she says.
While the hiring process at Apple is rigorous, Parker believes smaller operators should know that they can ask outright questions when vetting candidates, including reviewing a candidate’s use of social media.
“The reference [checkers] should have questions in it that allow the other people to speak the truth,” she says.
“Things like, ‘Has Jack ever stolen money?’ “Has jack ever obtained and used other people’s images?”’
“And if something is out on social media in a public way, it’s fair game – it’s like LinkedIn, it’s fair game.”
For Apple customers, any issues around privacy need to be dealt with swiftly and with transparency, says business coach Terri Billington. Even with a high level of brand trust, a company should notify of any breaches as soon as they happen to contain the issue.
“The customer needs the confidence – and I think that while they will be exceptionally disappointed, they need to see it being dealt with,” she says.
“The customer definitely needs to know that it is being dealt with.”
SmartCompany contacted Apple for further comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.