TrustArc Blog

Meet the Leading Players in the Privacy Ecosystem: Jules Polonetsky, Future of Privacy Forum

July 15, 2015

Over a hundred organizations are responsible for shaping the future of data privacy. In this new series we’ll profile some of the organizations that are helping to shape the massive privacy ecosystem through the eyes of the professionals that work there and learn more about their perspectives on privacy.

Jules Blog

What is your organization’s role in the privacy ecosystem?

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is supported by the privacy leaders of more than 100 companies, as well as a number of leading foundations. Our mission is to advance responsible data practices. FPF focuses on new technologies or new data uses where there are benefits to consumers and society. We seek to support the development of new technology by ensuring that privacy risks and concerns are addressed. We do this by publishing law review articles, writing white papers, developing best practices or codes of conduct, or by convening industry, advocates and policymakers to think through challenging issues.

 

What key goals/issues is your organization focused on tackling?

FPF is working on a range of big data and internet of things related issues, including benefit/risk analysis, sensitive data, de-identification and data use for good. We have published or helped develop best practices or codes for student data, location data, connected cars, beacons, ad tech and wearables. In each of these areas, we seek to be a centrist privacy voice, supporting innovation but ready to take seriously the concerns of consumers, advocates and policymakers.

 

How has your organization’s focus changed over the years to address evolving technologies or challenges?

When FPF launched, our time was dominated by online advertising and marketing issues. Over the past 8 years, data and technology have permeated every sector of business and every segment of consumer life. The agenda today is about smart cars, smart cities, always on technologies, drones, facial recognition and more. But at the end of the day, the basic concepts are the same: who is tracking, why are they tracking, what controls exist to stop either collection or use?

Looking ahead – what are the most important data privacy issues/concerns you think need to be addressed by the industry and/or government legislation?

The privacy debate is moving away from issues of notice and choice to concerns about fairness and discrimination and civil rights. Critics worry about product testing that can be considered “human subject research” and the debate is often about the ethics of data use. It’s no surprise that FPF has a philosopher joining us next year to work on social media tracking and other issues.

What is the biggest current threat to consumers?

Will the ever-broadening uses of data for tracking and personalization lead to a world where individuals are empowered, smarter, better able to manage our lives and our needs? Or will personalization mean that others will be making decisions for us and about us? These ideas were once theoretical, but technologies in school, in the workplace, at home and in cars are all increasingly available to tailor, protect and customize. Ethical, technically savvy and empowered privacy professionals will need to play lead roles in shaping the right balance for individual control and automated decisions.

 

How do you think the Privacy Ecosystem will/needs to evolve over the next 3-5 years to be fit for purpose?

Practitioners need more tools and greater certainty in a number of areas. We need clear guidance for de-identification and personal information! How can we manage data if the most central definition in privacy is so widely disputed? And we need more robust best practices and standards development system, where companies can have visibility into the reasonable practices that are emerging for new uses of data.

 

Tell us about your role at Future of Privacy Forum.

My co-chairman Chris Wolf and I launched FPF nearly 8 years ago with a mission of creating a centrist organization that brought together Chief Privacy Officers, academics and advocates to address data issues. On a typical day, I will brief a reporter, recruit a new member, work with a group of companies to negotiate a best practice document, speak on a panel, explain a new technology to Hill staff or advocates, and provide feed on a new product launch. It’s pretty busy!

 

How did you start working in the privacy field and why do you enjoy it?

I was a congressional staffer, a New York State Assemblyman and the Consumer Affairs Commissioner for New York City and loved speaking up for consumers. When DoubleClick (now part of Google) merged with a data company and kicked off a firestorm of privacy concern, I joined the company to help address the uproar and to set industry guidelines. One of the local newspapers mocked my new title, Chief Privacy Officer, sure it was a goofy dot com title that would soon disappear. That led to a CPO role at AOL and then FPF. I love being able to influence the development of new products, educate policymakers and work on ways data can improve the world in ways both large and small.

 

What do you wish more [people, business, etc.] knew about privacy?

I wish more consumers and more policymakers understood how critical data is to providing services, improving products and advancing important research. I wish more understood how data can be used to expose and combat discrimination. But, I also wish that more businesses understood that privacy is about more than notice and choice and more than taking care to “not be creepy”. I wish that more executives appreciated that privacy is about fairness, respect, and ethics.

Check out an overview of the Privacy Ecosystem Blog Series and stay tuned for more editions!

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