Chief privacy officers (CPOs) are information managers. This is a young
profession that's growing fast as the power of technology to capture -- and
misuse -- personal information grows.
Chief privacy officers make sure that their company or organization handles
data in a way that works with the law as well as the needs of customers and
You'll find chief privacy officers in government, nonprofit organizations
and private companies. They coordinate all activities that have implications
for privacy. They are constantly monitoring an organization's products, services
and systems to ensure the use of proper privacy practices.
Being able to understand policy and legislation is essential for this
"It's the ability to kind of read and interpret policy," says Bruce Roney,
a CPO. "And I think that is a skill. There's a certain kind of logic that
comes with that -- you extrapolate from a policy and say, 'Here's what's meant
in real life.'"
Chief privacy officers might conduct risk assessments, act as privacy advisors
to management and staff, train other employees on privacy issues, be responsible
for privacy dispute issues, make reports to company executives, or identify
areas where new procedures are recommended. They might also give statements
to the media or to government bodies on issues related to privacy.
Privacy officers protect personal information about people. That information
could include their address, phone number, social insurance number or any
information that is could identify that person.
On the Internet, this information is very valuable to companies because
they can know exactly who they are sending advertising material to. With the
information collected, marketing companies can send highly focused marketing
messages -- but there is a risk of hurting people's privacy.
A CPO must balance business and marketing needs with our need to maintain
privacy. CPOs ensure that people are comfortable and have a trusting relationship
with a company or organization.
"You have to be very ethical, creative, and you have to be logical," says
Merri Beth Lavagnino. She's the CPO for Indiana University. "You need to
be able to apply logic and make things more equal and fair," Lavagnino adds.
"You need to be able to understand law, see the big picture, [and] you need
to be able to influence people to want to do the right thing...
"People don't want to invade privacy, they just don't understand privacy
as a field, so my job is to teach them carefully -- 'Well, you don't really
want to do that because people feel that that's an invasion.'"
There are growing privacy concerns about how technology is being used to
collect personal information. The Internet has made it possible to gather
and exchange information very quickly. Concerns have risen to the point that
governments have passed -- and are continuing to pass -- privacy laws to protect
the public. CPOs must stay current with these constantly evolving laws.