By Larry Dobrow

Every day brings a new set of headlines that trumpet the recessed state of our economy--20,000 jobs here, 7,000 more there. To read the stories that accompany those headlines, the cuts have spared no function within the corporate hierarchy. Marketing, manufacturing, sales, human resources: the great recession of 2009 plays no favorites.

It comes as something as a surprise, then, to find that privacy and security functions have largely been spared the axe. According to Minnesota Privacy Consultants (MPC) president and former Carlson Companies chief privacy officer Jay Cline, companies don't appear to be trimming their privacy head count too severely. Last October, Cline's firm polled 340 individuals responsible for data protection at companies based in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific regions. It found that 31 percent were planning to increase budgets for outside privacy help; only 13 percent planned budget cutbacks.

Cline took his research one step further earlier this year, asking 100 privacy professionals from Midwest-based companies about their 2009 plans. While the sample size was small, 20 percent said they planned to increase privacy staff in 2009 and only three percent planned a reduction. "It seems that every other department except privacy is getting cut right now, regardless of industry," Cline notes.

The evidence may not be controvertible, but it sure seems that privacy and security have been elevated to the status of a business staple (as opposed to a business luxury). After all, if privacy and security haven't fallen by the wayside during a time when every expense comes under intense scrutiny, it stands to reason that they'll remain a high priority when the economy rebounds.

Experts are split on the precise reasons for privacy's resilience, so to speak, citing everything from the comparatively small size of some companies' privacy teams (you can only cut down a three-person operation so much) to larger-scale paranoia in the wake of financial institutions big and small crumbling (read: companies can't risk a meltdown of their own). They agree, however, that it mostly comes down to trust.

Specifically, they believe that companies are acutely aware of the effect that even a small-scale security breach could have on their customers' trust--and that, in times like these, they shouldn't hand even a single customer an excuse to shift his loyalties elsewhere.

"A very large number of companies now understand that it is critical for customers and consumers to have confidence in the way that they do business," says David Hoffman, Intel's director of security policy and global privacy officer. "Privacy and security are integral components of that confidence. Because of that, they make up a large part of the brand." The implications for companies that violate that confidence? "[Their customers] will work with somebody else, who values their trust," Hoffman responds.

Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, takes Hoffman's thinking a step further, identifying privacy and security as business staples for every industry, not just those that traffic in sensitive customer data. "It's not a nice-to-do; it's a have-to-do," he explains. "It doesn't matter if you sell shovels or if you're an accounting firm. If you're letting down your guard or shifting away your emphasis [from privacy/security] at a time when people can disrupt your business, you'll pay for it later. These are some of the most crucial pieces of protection we're talking about here."

Hoffman, for his part, states flatly: "I haven't talked to a single CPO who's laying off staff."

Despite their concerns about the economy, some pundits suggest that now could be the time to ratchet up privacy even further. Resources may remain limited, Hoffman says, but forward-thinking companies may deem it wise to trumpet their trustworthiness at a time when trust in large institutions is at a nadir. He notes that "change presents opportunity," pointing to A-list firms like Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble, and Microsoft as ones that have stressed the importance of privacy and security in recent months.

Argenti doesn't necessarily agree: "I don't think it's time to expand anything right now, to be honest. Anything that smacks of excessive spending--you just can't do that." Still, he believes that there's room for creativity, especially among privacy-conscious managers who have been tasked to do more with less.

Cline has advice for managers who find themselves in that very situation, as well as for those at companies that view privacy and security as "extras." He suggests that privacy people "buried in the org chart without staff or budget" might attempt to drive grassroots efforts within their organizations.

"Most employees have very personal stories to tell about privacy and are generally glad to find out that someone in their organization is on top of it," he explains. "These kinds of employees can become de facto privacy champions within their own reporting structures and elevate the visibility of the privacy issue upward."

As for the future, Cline believes that companies not inclined to view privacy and security as core issues will eventually come around. "Because of the prominence that breach notifications have given to employee data, I think the companies that view privacy as a luxury [as opposed to a staple] are in a small and diminishing minority," he says. Hoffman agrees, adding that commitments made to privacy and security "must be real."

Argenti, on the other hand, doesn't see change taking place quite so fast. "Eighteen, 24 months from now, you'll see things turning around. Unfortunately, there will be infrastructure issues that prevent growth right away," he says. "So a company that hasn't started emphasizing [privacy and security] yet won't be able to hit the ground running."


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Talk privacy and network with local members at IAPP KnowledgeNet Chapter meetings, taking place worldwide.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

The Privacy Core™ Library Has Evolved

Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials just expanded to include seven new units for marketers. Keep your data safe and your staff in the know!

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

Upcoming Web Conferences

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Team

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Let’s Get You DPO Ready

There’s no better time to train than right now! We have all the resources you need to meet the challenges of the GDPR.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

FIP Designation

Recognizing the advanced knowledge and issue-spotting skills a privacy pro must attain in today’s complex world of data privacy.

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.


The IAPP’S CIPP/E and CIPM are the ANSI/ISO-accredited, industry-recognized combination for DPO readiness. Learn more today.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Are You Ready for the GDPR?

Check out the IAPP's EU Data Protection Reform page for all the tools and resources you need.

IAPP-OneTrust PIA Platform

New U.S. Government Agency privacy impact assessments - free to IAPP members!

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

Privacy Vendor List

Find a privacy vendor to meet your needs with our filterable list of global service providers.

More Resources »

Europe Data Protection Intensive 2017

The Intensive is sold out! But cancellations do happen—so hurry and get on the wait list in case more seats become available.

Global Privacy Summit 2017

The world’s premier privacy conference returns with the sharpest minds, unparalleled programs and preeminent networking opportunities.

Canada Privacy Symposium 2017

The Symposium returns to Toronto this spring and registration has opened! Take advantage of Early Bird rates and join your fellow privacy pros for another stellar program.

The Privacy Bar Section Forum 2017

The Privacy Bar Section Forum is sold out! But you can still add your name to the wait list, and we'll keep in touch about your status. Good luck!

Asia Privacy Forum 2017

Call for Speakers open! Join the Forum in Singapore for exclusive networking and intensive education on data protection trends and challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

Privacy. Security. Risk. 2017

Call for Speakers open! This year, we're bringing P.S.R. to San Diego. Submit today and be a part of something big! Submission deadline: February 26.

Europe Data Protection Congress 2017

Call for Speakers open! The Congress is your source for European policy debate, multi-level strategic thinking and thought-provoking discussion. Submit a proposal by March 19.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»