Are Chief Privacy Officers a Must-Have?

 The Internet has long grappled with the issue of consumer privacy. In the fourth article of an eight-part series, Digiday examines the issue of “Redefining Privacy.” The series is made possible through the sponsorship of Truste, a provider of online privacy services.


The onset of online marketing tactics such as behavioral targeting and mining social media data has created the need for brands to arm themselves to ensure they aren’t stepping on the toes of consumers from a privacy standpoint.

Enter the chief privacy officer. There are a few companies that already have chief privacy officers, but the majority still don’t. Digiday talked to executives in various walks of digital media and marketing on whether chief marketing officers are a must-have for brands nowadays. Here is what the industry had to say:

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy
Brands will soon find themselves on the front lines of the online data battle, because they are ultimately responsible for supporting mobile marketing tactics that threaten privacy and are unfair to consumers. The rise of location tracking, mobile device behavioral marketing, real-time targeting, and the use of immersive formats for the small screen requires responsible practices and new safeguards. While agencies, app developers and carriers embrace mobile marketing to reach users without considering the consequences, brands are ultimately responsible for campaigns waged on their behalf. The rush by leading marketers to embrace mobile targeting without adopting meaningful safeguards illustrates many in the industry are adrift when it comes to understanding the serious privacy concerns. Every major brand should have an official responsible for ensuring its digital campaigns are ethical and protect privacy — especially during this real-time and mobile-connected era.

Amy Mushahwar, an associate at law firm Reed Smith
This is an environment where brands need chief privacy officers, especially consumer-facing brands with an online presence. That’s just about every brand today. Brands want to behaviorally target consumers on the Web, and to be able to use that information properly, you need a CPO to be a liaison between the technical team and the marketing team and the privacy policy of that company. It is almost like having an intra-corporate advocate for consumers within the company: someone protecting consumers and the business values of a company.

Jonathan I. Ezor, counsel to law firm Olshan Grundman Frome Rosenzweig & Wolosky LLP
Given the high stakes and high visibility of privacy issues today, I think that all brands need a chief privacy officer for consistent, solid policy knowledge. Smaller brands may not be able to support a separate privacy employee, but it is a crucial and ever-changing area with both risk and opportunity.

Steven Cook, CMO of and former CMO of Samsung
I do think it is in necessary to have  — whether it is a chief privacy officer or someone that plays that role.The majority of the time it is someone who’s the corporate council within an organization. Regardless of who does it, it is important. It adds to brand reputation, brand integrity and to the brand relationship with the consumers, whether it is B2B or B2C brand. Brands need to take this issue seriously and show that you care about consumers. Privacy is a real issue and will be a legal issue at some point.

Leslie Dunlap, vice president of privacy, policy and trust at Yahoo
Yahoo believes having dedicated senior leadership focused on privacy [is important]. We support the philosophy of privacy by design, or intentionally considering privacy throughout the product life-cycle. This requires high-level attention to ensure a consistent, quality approach that enhances a safe and trustworthy digital experience for [consumers.]

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
There is a two-fold need for a privacy officer in an organization or brand. First is for the potential liability for the brand if there is a breach that entails litigation. It can result in catastrophic financial loss for the brand. Second is a matter of looking at it from the consumer perspective. If you value your consumers, you need a mechanism to look at all their interests, and one of those aspects is privacy. Brands need to have sufficient oversight to ensure that consumer privacy is not invaded.

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