How do you prevent employees from reading a story? Use some nice gobbledygook

You can’t make up stories like this.

The Department of Homeland Security has sent a memo to employees that they may be violating their non-disclosure agreement if they click on a link to a Washington Post article.

It’s obviously a tricky legal thing. Employees are being asked not to use their work computers (referred to as “unclassified government workstations”) since doing so will “raise the level of your unclassified workstation to the classification of the slide…” Doing so, they warn, will cause “data spillage.” It’s also sensitive, being connected to the Edward Snowden affair.

That classified slide, featured in the Post, is about the program known as PRISM, that secretly collected downstream data about people from companies such as  Facebook, Skype, Google, Apple, Microsoft etc.

But the question remains: If DHS really fears such “spillage” why did it not block access to the site from work computers, rather than send out that lame memo? It’s as useful as telling 12-year old students “do not turn to page 296 of your reader; by doing so you will be in violation of the school’s policy.”

I find this very topical for another reason. I just interviewed a company called Safetica, about a product it ¬†markets as ‘productivity’ solution – to monitor employees’ online behavior. It will not snoop into people’s content, it says, but collect data about the paces people visit and how much time they spend there. It gets more interesting: this data, can be viewed by both supervisors and employees!

Maybe Safetica ought to send DHS one month free trail of its data leak prevention software!

Grade your Press Release – if you have the stomach for it

There’s a neat web service for checking to see if your Press Release is full of #!*! or if it carries standard elements such as contact numbers, URL’s and keywords that match up with links.

Word Cloud based on iPhone's Press Release in 2007It’s called Press Release Grader. A cut-and-paste site that grades your release instantly.

What I liked most about it was the visual rendering of a Word Cloud, which displays words larger if they are used more often etc. It also points to gobbledygook words –there were 7.

Since Apple’s iPhone 2.0 is all the rage this month, I used one of the first iPhone releases from January 2007 about ‘reinventing the phone.’ It got a grading of 44 out of 100, and had the readability level for a 3-year undergraduate.

You can see the report here.

I don’t think the value of this is to score high, or to gloat, but to get you to understand what you could be missing, or overdoing. What constitutes a perfect press release? No human or piece of software could tell you that. There are guidelines and must-haves that a ‘Grader’ like this will help you remember to use. But as my friend and author Linda VandeVrede reminds us, a press release should serve the one audience it is targeting: the media.