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Promoting Privacy Via Lessons Learned From The 99U Conference

Last week I attended the 99U conference in NYC. Held at Lincoln Center, the two-day session is billed as “a one-of-a-kind live experience fully devoted to exploring the mechanics of idea execution.” Comprised of main stage talks from the world’s leading creative visionaries, the conference also offers master classes and studio sessions aimed at delivering pragmatic, real-world insights exploring the execution of creative ideas. The name “99U” derives from the Thomas Edison quote “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.”

The conference was meticulously organized, designed and curated, and featured speakers such as Co-Founder & Head of Behance for Adobe, Scott Belsky, author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Marc Eckō, of Mark Eckō Enterprises, author and cultural historian Sarah Lewis, and illustrator and graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton (of right here in San Francisco!).

For me, the conference delivered on its goal. It was an opportunity to learn entrepreneurial techniques I can put to use with my “startup” – The Privacy Guru. I was re-inspired to fulfill my mission as a privacy champion and develop innovative ways to increase public and business awareness of privacy rights and responsibilities. Did I mention I also had a great time socializing and networking at the various receptions and the after party at the Museum of Modern Art?

I may have been the only attorney in the house but who says lawyers aren’t fun and creative?

Spotlight: Lessons from Aaron Dignan

One of the most inspiring speakers was Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent, a digital consulting firm. Dignan was a last minute replacement for a speaker who took ill that morning. (He’s spoken at previous 99u events, and videos of his talks, “How to Use Games to Excel at Life and Work” and “Digital Isn’t Software, It’s a Mindset” are available online.)

Dignan and his team at Undercurrent have provided strategy and management consulting services for the fastest growing and most impactful companies of our time (such as GE, American Express, Hyatt, and PepsiCo). What they’ve found is that the most successful organizations are responsive to competition, culture, technology, and all other forms of disruptions. Dignan contends that teams everywhere need to “upgrade their organizational operating system” to become more responsive and dominant in the face of change.

Dignan believes we can learn from complex adaptive systems and apply the techniques to our own organizations to better execute on our creative ideas.

The core characteristics of the organizations Dignan spoke of during his 99u presentation included:

Emphasis on growing, leveraging and serving networks. He named examples of ant colonies, the human immune system, and the Internet which work as networks, not hierarchies.

Preference for decentralized, self-organizing networks whereby people are empowered with purpose.

Simple, not complicated rules and a greater reliance on culture. (He spoke of the Zappos Employee Handbook, which goes into great detail about company culture.)

Processing, not managing information. Technology businesses now focus on the task of processing information, not overall management of all possible information.

Adapting, not just sustaining. It’s important to work with change in the marketplace and adapt to it.

Bias for responsiveness, and the wisdom to scale the winning ideas.

Dignan’s Ideas And The Themes Of The 99U Conference Applied To Privacy

Where do these ideas lead in terms of promoting privacy? It’s important we recognize that technology and privacy must adapt and work together. Privacy exists within the framework of complex adaptive systems including the marketplace, the law, and the Internet. Privacy compliance needs to adapt to serve innovation and users equally. Individuals, businesses, and governments can incorporate open innovation, agile methodology and responsive leadership in unique ways which will benefit everyone involved.

Individuals can develop privacy awareness and privacy practices. Let’s:

• Adapt and cultivate our awareness of new technologies and demand simple and clear privacy policies and settings in the technologies and social media platforms we use.

• Empower ourselves with information, and put that information into practice. (Our privacy practices are the 99% perspiration.)

• Be creative and open-minded with how we approach new technologies, setting aside both fear and apathy.

• Be practical and pragmatic with our privacy choices.

Businesses should incorporate “privacy by design” values, including:

• Innovation which balances the creative use of technology while keeping privacy and user-centric design in mind

• Simple rules in the form of a clear privacy policy and actionable privacy settings

• Sensible data collection, requesting only the information which is necessary for the product or service provided

• Flexibility aimed at adapting and responding to user concerns about privacy and security

Governments need to upgrade their technology awareness and advocate policies that benefit innovation and privacy. Unfortunately many laws are outdated and many legislators and judges are not particularly tech-savvy.

One example of adaptive government policy is the recent White House report on Big Data. The group made six actionable recommendations in their report (quoted below):

Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights because consumers deserve clear, understandable, reasonable standards for how their personal information is used in the big data era.

Pass National Data Breach Legislation that provides for a single national data breach standard, along the lines of the Administration’s 2011 Cybersecurity legislative proposal.

Extend Privacy Protections to non-U.S. Persons because privacy is a worldwide value that should be reflected in how the federal government handles personally identifiable information from non-U.S. citizens.

Ensure Data Collected on Students in School is used for Educational Purposes to drive better learning outcomes while protecting students against their data being shared or used inappropriately.

Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination because the federal government should build the technical expertise to be able to identify practices and outcomes facilitated by big data analytics that have a discriminatory impact on protected classes.

Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world—including by removing archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age.

Making Good On Good Ideas

The 99U conference reminded me that our ideas about making privacy matter are not enough. While inspiration is important, it is the process and the practice we must embrace. We should commit ourselves to the worthy work of “scaling up” our privacy practices to meet the challenges of the social, political and business networks we live in.

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