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Can we learn from Hackergate?

The Prime Minister David Cameron is busy today answering questions from politicians trying to score points against him. His problem is he employed Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World – the newspaper which illegally hacked into phones, paid the police for information and brought the reputation of three major institutions (press, police and politics) into utter disgrace. Yesterday, of course, we had the spectacle of the Murdoch family fending off questions about the scandal. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? This story runs and runs with amazing new revelations every day.

The thing is, if you were Prime Minister and someone said “we’ve got this chap, ex-newspaper editor, and we reckon he’d make a good PR adviser for you”. You might think “sounds a good idea”. But you might remember that the newspaper had been involved in a phone hacking scandal. You might then say “Mmm, possibly but it doesn’t smell right to me”.

Imagine too that you are the most senior police officer in Britain and someone offers you a stay in a health spa, the value of which is £12,000. You might think, “sounds lovely, but doesn’t smell it’s the right thing to do”.

Possibly too you are the leader of a global business employing 52,000 people when you hear that several of them are involved in paying police officers or listening to other people’s voicemails. You too might think “that doesn’t smell right”.

Co-incidentally, last night I received a phone call from a friend who was asking for advice about a web site he was visiting. It offered him rooms in Chelsea apartments for a mere £40 a night. He wanted to know if there was a way of checking out the web company to see if they were genuine.

But, considering Chelsea is the millionaires’ hangout in London, does £40 a night seem right? I asked my friend “does it smell right?” He admitted it didn’t – and as I pointed out, that’s all you need to make an online decision. If it doesn’t “smell right”, if it appears to be too good to be true, if your “gut feeling” is negative, the chances are it is something to avoid.

We don’t need fancy online checking systems to ascertain whether a website is worthwhile. We just need our gut instinct or a keen nose for whether or not it “smells right”.

Which begs two questions – firstly, does your website smell right to other people? And secondly, how come the “gut instinct” of politicians, senior police officers and those in charge of multinational companies is so weak?

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