A four step Business Strategy for Engaging the Public on Privacy

A straightforward strategy for companies which handle personal data seeking to engage effectively with the public on privacy issues.

While discussions of privacy have tended to focus on the public sector, private companies are very often implicated as well. In particular, companies involved in collecting and analyzing personal data for marketing and other commercial purposes can benefit greatly by engaging the public in positive discussions of privacy issues. Companies may seek to engage the public in a discussion of company privacy practices for two main reasons:

Legal compliance – Companies have a legal obligation to inform the public of how their personal information is gathered and used.

Public perception – Negative publicity related to privacy issues can be highly damaging to companies, while positive communications on privacy matters can greatly enhance a company’s reputation. Companies that are open about how they gather, manage, and use personal information are better able to offer a sense of security and trust to customers and partners.

Based on our experience, we suggest a staged strategy for companies seeking to engage the public on privacy issues. The initial focus is on developing strong privacy practices, while later stages guide companies in initiating a public discussion about protecting privacy and becoming known as privacy leaders.

1. Due Diligence – Ensure legal compliance

  • Plan for privacy – Develop an effective method for managing privacy risk: evaluate privacy risks and the maturity of current privacy practices, and create a roadmap towards improved risk management.
  • Make it happen – Implement the roadmap using tools and technologies such as de-identification, risk measurement and monitoring, and security.

2. Extend Your Enterprise – Make privacy pervasive

  • Develop a program – Set up a privacy program to create and implement proper procedures for obtaining consent and for handling data in a privacy-protective manner. The program will be responsible for continually monitoring compliance with privacy laws.
  • Integrate privacy in design – Empower a mature privacy program to integrate privacy considerations into all of the company’s operations, from frontline services to management to IT networks. This will differentiate a company as a true leader in protecting privacy.

3. Join the Conversation – Create a communication strategy

  • Listen in – Use media analytics to measure the trends, influence and traction of media coverage of privacy issues – in short, find out which privacy issues people are concerned about.
  • Speak up – Offer the public detailed information on how their data is being managed. Publish a privacy newsletter, blog, or industry whitepapers. Respond to major media events related to privacy. Be seen as a leader in protecting privacy.

4. Reach Out – Engage the public

  • Focus on the customer – Treat privacy as a service: give customers opportunities to learn about how personal information is used to improve customer service and offer incentives for sharing their data. Give customers control over whether and how their information is collected and used.
  • Engage the influencers – Reach out to media, the privacy commissioner, and government services to discuss privacy issues and demonstrate leadership in setting privacy standards.

By integrating effective privacy practices across their enterprise, providing information that addresses people’s concerns about privacy, and engaging the public and government in discussing privacy issues, companies can become known as leaders committed to protecting individual privacy. Giving customers information and options as to how their personal information is managed helps to create a sense of public trust, which yields benefits in terms of both sales and partnerships. Engaging government and industry in privacy discussions helps companies to improve their practices, puts them in a position of leadership with regard to privacy, and gives them a voice in the future direction of privacy standards. Far from being a liability, privacy can be a powerful opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves as leaders in corporate responsibility and service to the public.


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