Thursday 26 April 2018

The Communications Privacy Professional

This post was originally published on Edelman Data Security Privacy.

I recently attended a privacy conference and noticed that I was one of the only communications professionals there—most of the people I met sat in legal departments. I found myself asking “why aren’t there more communicators here, given the amount of public scrutiny privacy receives?”

Privacy Compliance

My guess is that today the privacy profession and function in most organizations is the responsibility of the legal department, because companies view privacy and security through the lens of compliance. However, I think that we will see a shift to a more diverse group of professionals tackling privacy as it becomes a more central business function. Compliance is just the beginning; however, compliance alone is becoming insufficient for a world-class privacy program.

Calls for privacy by Design mean that more emphasis will be put on baking privacy into the product development process, creating new needs for designers and engineers to be involved in building privacy features and functionality. With social networking, mobile applications and Web 2.0 services, privacy becomes more than rules– it requires providing controls that require technical expertise.

Move Past Compliance

Jim Adler has written extensively about the evolution of how he approaches being the Chief Privacy Officer and General Manager of Data Systems at Intelius as an engineer. He points out the need for privacy to move past just compliance:

But compliance alone won’t cut it…Compliance is about “yes and no”; innovation is about “what if”; and I think it takes a new breed of privacy officer to tell the difference. (Full post here)

Microsoft has also written a lot about how its privacy group takes a similar approach to privacy.


As part of this transition, communicators have a major role to play. Consumers want transparency in the practices of businesses. Key audiences need to be engaged with clear and impactful messages about how companies respect privacy. These two facets of the privacy and security industry fall right in the wheelhouse of communications. However, to communicate about a nuanced topic like privacy requires a certain amount of understanding of the technical subject matter by communicators.

Just as we see moves from major publications to establish reporters with privacy as part of their beat, we need to have communications professionals who understand the topic to work with them. In addition, we see increased regulatory and policymaker attention with members of Congress regularly calling hearings and sending letters to companies to hold them more accountable for privacy policies. Effectively responding to these inquires require clear messages and a well-planned communications strategy.

For communications professionals, here might be a new specialty to consider as the issue is only going to increase in importance as more information goes online.

Image credit: Warzauwynn

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