Recently, I had dinner with a colleague that I had not seen in several years. Their company, a multinational with global operations, had undergone several changes in that time. When the dust settled, this friend had been tapped as “privacy manager”. Along with corporate counsel (part time for privacy), they decided that, even under GDPR, they did not need a Privacy / Data Protection Officer . Huh?
We don’t collect personal information only business information
My recollection of the company we were discussing is that they have operations throughout the world providing goods and services to local customers. The company held an incorrect assumption that the company does not collect personal information. The only information they collect is related to the organizational information of their customers.
Organizational information, however, is considered personal information in many jurisdictions. Where I work, my title, and my contact information, while being organizational information, are all part of my personal information.
I also suggest that sales representatives often collect personal information of prospects and customers to help build relationships. Contact information (business and personal), birth dates, anniversaries, information on family members, and life-cycle events are some of the things a sales rep may collect. Typically, this personal information finds its way into the company’s information systems like customer relationship managers or email systems.
Let’s also keep employees’ information in mind. There is a vast amount of personal information about employees and their families that a company collects.
Our major focus is not processing that information
The company we were discussing is a manufacturer. Their primary business may not be processing of personal information, but processing that information is a necessary activity to operate the business.
Customer relationship management, direct marketing, call center, human resource management, recruiting, email management, and order fulfillment are just a few of the systems a business needs to operate. All of these have some privacy risk associated with them. (You can add manual process to this list as well.)
Not in this case, but in others, I have had conversations with corporate counsel who did not want to implement a compliance program because it might uncover some privacy activity that would need to be addressed due to policy or legal requirements. (Isn’t that what compliance programs are for?) Just because you don’t know about a privacy incident doesn’t make the organization less liable for it.
Privacy and data protection requires investment
As the evening wore down it became clear that the company was just not making an appropriate investment in privacy and data protection. The “bury your head in the sand” approach was allowing them to ignore the need for the investment.
Privacy incidents will occur. An organization can make an investment in being proactive and preventative or pay heavily in fines, remediation costs, and brand damage when incidents are publicly discovered.