flyer pasted on a post that reads "Big Data Is Watching You"
PHOTO: ev | unsplash

I recently attended the Shift Happens conference in Washington, D.C., which focuses on digital transformation within the modern workplace. Industry leaders and analysts as well as technology visionaries spoke about a number of hot topics, including artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the future of technology.

The idea behind the conference is to bring technology thought leaders together with practitioners to spark discussion around where technology will take our world in the years ahead. With technology evolving faster than ever before and data being collected at previously unimaginable levels, it’s critically important for business owners and compliance officers to understand and prepare so they can minimize future shock.  

These shifts in perspective were at the core of the session by Toni Townes-Whitley, president of regulated industries at Microsoft: “Digital Leadership: Insights from the Trenches.” She broke down digital leadership into three core sections: knowing what you’re digitally transforming, how it’s being transformed, and who is being affected by the change.

As someone who is responsible for privacy and security at my organization, I've always believed it’s important to not only know what my company is doing today, but also what it will be doing in the future. Understanding the future of technology gives me an important perspective on the kinds of threats I might need to plan for moving forward.

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The Real Risk? Saying It's 'Not My Job'

I had invited some of my colleagues from the privacy and security space to attend the conference with me. And their response was surprising to say the least. They claimed the topic of “digital transformation” isn't relevant to the responsibilities of a privacy team. Personally, I can’t imagine anything more relevant to my organization’s privacy team than understanding the way data is being used not only today, but in five years and beyond. 

How can we as privacy and security professionals do our jobs if we can’t anticipate what may happen around the corner? How can we be trusted to give advice or make decisions if we can’t provide realistic assurances of the impact of those decisions now and in the future?

In an industry that’s all about risk assessment, this kind of “not my job” thinking presents a significant risk. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the privacy and security space to understand and be a part of the solution. We must strive to find a solution that allows us to take advantage of technology and to maximize potential opportunities in a way that’s respectful of individuals.

The responsible, ethical and lawful collection, use, sharing, maintenance and disposition of information — whether it’s data that we collect or create — can be used for good or weaponized. The self-driving cars we see on the roads are increasingly becoming one example of that. For effective data management and collaboration to turn into a competitive advantage for business­es, it’s essential that timely access to data as well as multi-directional communication flow — with the right risk management filters in place — is provided. This can help ensure data is both available to those who need it and safe from potential fraudsters.

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Keeping Up With Our Rapidly Evolving Technology World

Connected devices — such as Apple Watches and connected cars — collect, transmit, store and potentially share vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal. It’s important to recognize who controls this information, with whom it’s shared and how it’s stored and protected. 

Similarly, it can prove beneficial to take note of what happens when our devices become proxies for public resources. With the growing asymmetry between those that are gathering and those that are the subjects, it will become critical to create new frameworks for accountability and ultimately ensure the privacy and ethical use of big data.

Privacy professionals need to dig beyond their legal backgrounds to understand the rapidly evolving world of technology and effectively do their jobs. Anyone who is a parent can relate to the curve ball that has come from changes in even the simplest of things — like “new math” based on “common core principles” that have even Harvard PhDs struggling to help their child with their 7th grade homework. 

Privacy officers must closely align not only with their security counterparts, but also their IT counterparts. Often fluent in the language of the “law,” privacy officers should strive to understand the limitations and possibilities available to their company through technology both now and in the future.