Tip of the Hat: LibraryThing Does Data Security

We’re all made up of equal parts creativity and fallibility. In our new series “Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger,” All Things E will highlight the best and the worst our technological world has to offer.


(Photo credit: srharris)

First up: a tip of the literary cap for great customer service by a social media outlet. LibraryThing is a social networking site that allows users to showcase their books, participate in discussion groups, and participate in crowd sourced cataloging sessions for archival collections. In addition to their social network site, they offer catalog enhancements for libraries. The site is like Goodreads, only for even bigger book nerds!

This week, LibraryThing announced that they uncovered a data breach from 2011, where email addresses and passwords may have been accessed. Although the breach occurred more than two years ago, their team sprung into action. In addition to directly emailing all members who joined before the time of the breach, they wrote a lengthy blog post  about it, including when they discovered the unusual activity, the number of possibly-compromised accounts, and the security measures they’ve implemented since 2011 and since the breach was discovered in January. LibraryThing also upgraded all users who joined prior to this breach to lifetime memberships, which has a $25 value and allows users unlimited cataloging privileges.

Their most impressive act of transparency was their encouragement of users to discuss the breach on their website. They created a forum post where users could ask questions and air their grievances. Tim Spalding, LibraryThing’s founder and lead developer, is an active participant on this forum, answering questions, lightening the mood with an appropriate pun, and politely responding to requests for account deactivation with a link to do so.

LibraryThing doesn’t store any banking or credit card information. There was very little risk involved with this particular data breach. And yet, they offered timely and transparent customer service, saving their loyal customer base a little money in the process.

With the recent data breaches of Target and Neiman Marcus – including their less-than-satisfactory responses –  dominating the airwaves, kudos are due to Tim and company for treating the breach seriously while simultaneously easing the minds of their users.  It’s possible to provide transparency about security hiccups and still keep your customer base coming back for more.

Let this be a lesson – or finger-wag – to companies who attempt to hide their data breaches!

Have you come across any fantastic or reprehensible examples of customer communication? Feel free to add them below!

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