31 January 2022

The enduring modern privacy challenge

Arjun Ramachandran

Privacy has evolved considerably since ancient thinkers first wrote about it as a concept. In this post, elevenM’s Arjun Ramachandran plots this evolution and discusses how finding skilled people has become the enduring modern challenge for the privacy profession. We also preview elevenM’s upcoming webinar.

In his musings over privacy, Aristotle could hardly have contemplated the complex challenges that would be heralded by the digital future.

The ancient Greek philosopher drew a distinction between private family life (oikos) and the public sphere of political affairs (polis). While this conception of the division between domestic life and the state remains valid, the landscape today is so much more complex.

Our lives today play out and are made meaningful by our existence in an intricate web of relationships – with other people, with businesses and with information – largely mediated through our daily use of various digital services and participation in online platforms.

The modern privacy challenge – as distinct from Aristotle’s paradigm where privacy was more synonymous with domestic life – is perhaps to locate and define privacy within this more complex picture. In this context, our experiences of privacy are increasingly not simply the result of our personal choices (such as deciding to remain in the privacy of the family home). Instead, they’re dictated by how this broader digital and information ecosystem – one in which we all must necessarily participate – is engineered.

Banks, government agencies, streaming services, social media platforms … and all manner of services have now become, by default, digital businesses. So it is that the digital platforms we use to communicate and the organisations with which we share our information have become outsized gatekeepers of our privacy.

We know that there is strong community sentiment in favour of privacy which provides direction for businesses seeking as us customers. Regulations such as The Privacy Act (1988) and the EU’s GDPR also set legal baselines for how privacy must be protected. But realising these outcomes ultimately falls to these organisations and how they collectively handle our information.

In our work with many of these companies, we’ve seen growing intent and motivation over recent years to get privacy right. There has been steady investment in establishing dedicated privacy teams and building privacy processes and programs.

But when their privacy capability reaches a certain point of maturity, many organisations appear to hit the same wall: an inability to find skilled professionals to keeping doing the good work of privacy. “The global shortage of privacy professionals” has sadly become a well-documented state of affairs.

The challenge will only intensify in coming years as digitisation expands, with growing use of data-driven technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. This is to say nothing of the review of the Privacy Act currently underway, and the expanded compliance requirements it will bring.

At elevenM, we’ve been talking about this problem at length amongst ourselves and with some of our industry colleagues. We’d love to open up this problem to a broader audience – such is its breadth and criticality that we believe it requires a truly collective approach.

On February 8, elevenM’s Melanie Marks and Jordan Wilson-Otto, in partnership with the International Association of Privacy Professionals, will deliver a presentation diving deeper into the talent drought and exploring solutions. The presentation will be followed by a multidisciplinary panel discussion featuring leaders in privacy, academia and industry.

If you’d like to attend, click the link below to register. https://iapp.org/store/webconferences/a0l1P00000DbKYuQA

A Lawyer, a Chemist, an Ethicist, a Copywriter and a Programmer Walk Into a Bar

Melanie Marks, CIPP/E, CIPM, FIP, Principal, ElevenM
Jordan Wilson-Otto, Principal, ElevenM

Chantelle Hughes, Executive Manager, Technology Community, Commonwealth Bank
Sacha Molitorisz, Lecturer, Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney
Jacqui Peace, AU/NZ Privacy Management, Google
Daimhin Warner, CIPP/E, Principal & Director, Simply Privacy

Photo credit: FotoFlo on Unsplash.