Last month, eight of the largest technology firms in the U.S., including Google and Apple, sent an open letter to President Obama calling for an overhaul of U.S. privacy laws. Obama has moved on the issue, but despite his recent promise of new limits on the National Security Agency, America’s domestic snooping programs and the public’s continued anxiety about over-sharing on social media have kept these matters in the spotlight. For the entrepreneurially minded, that means only one thing: opportunity.
Few people know more about privacy—and the expanding market for privacy experts—than Ann Cavoukian, the information and privacy commissioner for Ontario and an author of two books on privacy. In 2013, she made headlines for lambasting top staff in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office for deleting emails.
Unlike Scott McNealy, the former CEO of Sun Microsystems who famously proclaimed, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it,” Cavoukian believes privacy and profit can coexist. “There’s a misconception that privacy issues are purely legal or regulatory in nature,” she says. “This is just not true. I meet regularly with companies like Google and Oracle, with people like Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair so that preventative, proactive privacy policies can be implemented.”
But it’s a complex new world for many businesses and organizations, meaning employees who have the right skills are going to be in high demand. Cavoukian sees five areas right now that are particularly promising for job seekers in the sector.
1. Big Data: Enterprises that manage medical and financial records need to keep up with solutions for keeping data private. Just last month, retailer Target became embroiled in a scandal involving a massive theft of customer credit card information. Information security teams need data security architects to uncover vulnerabilities before they are exploited.
2. Privacy regulators: These don’t have to be government watchdog types. “Companies are more and more interested in issues of privacy all the time,” she says. “Many companies have privacy ‘people.’ ” The Toronto Transit Commission has someone. So do many police departments, where staff are tasked with reviewing policies on the use of CCTV cameras in public areas.
3. Encryption: For the technically minded, finding new ways to encode and protect messages promises to be a major growth area. Cavoukian says she is a fan of homomorphic encryption, a new method that allows for calculations to be performed on data while it is still encrypted, making it a promising technology for delivering new cloud services.
4. De-identification: This developing field entails stripping personal information from data and is a growing concern for businesses that involve biometrics (e.g. fingerprints and photographs). Cavoukian is currently in talks with the European Union about strategies for separating biometric information from personal identifiers like names, IP addresses and social security numbers. “De-identification methods are on the very cutting edge of technology,” she says. “There is abundant room for entrepreneurially minded students to ride the crest.”
5. App development: Despite an explosion in the number of apps for devices like tablets and smartphones, this remains an untapped area in the privacy sphere. “Where are the apps for privacy?” she says. “There is huge room for growth in this area.”
If all else fails, Cavoukian recommends job seekers and employees take initiative. “If the company you are working for has not yet implemented privacy initiatives, create a niche for yourself,” she says. “If you’re involved in data management or data collection, point out the benefits of emphasizing privacy. You build a relationship of trust with your clients. You avoid potential lawsuits. It’s the smart way to go.”