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How To Be Your Own Chief Privacy Officer


This week the White House announced U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Nicole Wong will be stepping down after a little more than a year in the position. Wong, who previously served as director of legal products at Twitter and deputy general counsel at Google, was widely regarded as an excellent choice for the job. Her most high-profile project with the administration was her involvement in drafting the White House’s May 2014 “Big Data Report,” and many regarded Wong as the White House’s “Chief Privacy Officer.”

The announcement has sparked a vigorous debate over what qualities the White House should look for in her replacement. In a recent Gigaom article covering high-profile commentary about her departure, opinions ranged from hiring a tech expert, a lawyer, to someone with admin experience and leadership skills. The article’s concluded that “the job might be better suited for someone who can explain online privacy issues to the average American, including the inherent trade-off that lies at the heart of the consumer internet: free services in exchange for personal data.”

In other words, America’s Chief Privacy Officer should be someone who can highlight and demystify privacy issues for ordinary people who care about privacy. A true privacy advocate should be able to practically align and explain tech, innovation, policy, and legal issues.

What is a CPO?

The position of Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) is a relatively new term at the “C-suite” level. As CIOs (Chief Information Officers) and CTOs (Chief Technical Officers) represent specialized leadership roles in an organization, the CPO ensures a company complies with privacy and data security regulations in ways which support business initiatives.

A CPO is senior policy advisor on privacy issues and advises companies on processes and procedures including the development of privacy practices and policies, customer confidentiality, data security requirements, as well as education and training employees on privacy issues. A CPO typically has a law degree and interfaces regularly with the company’s CEO, CTO, legal and compliance departments.

You Can Be Your Own CPO

Though you may not have a law degree or be a tech expert, the concept of the CPO may be a useful mental model for framing your relationship to the privacy issues you face every day. If you imagine your life as your company, your role as CPO involves:

• Protecting your assets (personal information)

• Exercising your awareness, discernment, and vision in “privacy practical” ways

• Communicating to others the ways in which you value your privacy

• Aligning your goals, vision, and values with a concern for privacy and data security

• Keeping current on policy changes that impact your rights and how you choose to manage your information

Practical Tip: Use available tools as part of your privacy practice

The success of any executive depends in part on a commitment to succeed, trusted direct reports and the use of effective tools and technology. In the “You are Your CPO” model, there are many tools that can support your privacy goals.

One is a new service called Paranoid Paul. Paranoid Paul helps you keep track of changes to the terms of service and privacy policies on the websites you visit. Paranoid Paul provides email alerts when there are policy changes to sites you add to your “watch list.” The service is free and currently tracks over 60 websites.

Another option is a private search engine currently in Beta – claims to offer “truly private search” where your Internet searches “will never be seen, stored, or accessed by any single person or entity.” Users who create a account may set privacy controls to allow or deny service providers access to their data. Other services also offer private browsing and search capabilities so you can make privacy your default online.

After all, why not leverage technology to make your role as your personal CPO a little easier?

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