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The Privacy Advisor | For TikTok’s privacy counsel, work ‘couldn’t feel more rewarding’ Related reading: Bringing privacy to an organization ‘that’s literally saving the planet’

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Editor's Note:

IAPP President and CEO J. Trevor Hughes, CIPP, will hosted TikTok Privacy Counsel Dayo Simms, CIPP/G, CIPP/US, during the IAPP’s “Profiles in Privacy” series May 12 on LinkedIn Live.

Like so many, Dayo Simms, CIPP/G, CIPP/US, spent a considerable amount of time in her California home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With her family across the country in the Baltimore, Maryland, area, Simms often turned to platforms like TikTok as a “window to the world” for inspiration, connection and entertainment.

“On TikTok, I enjoyed seeing so many families having fun, dancing in their living rooms, and the endless feed of videos that provided an uplifting reprieve from a challenging time,” Simms said. “TikTok made life more fun, despite being isolated from the people and places I love.”

TikTok Privacy Counsel Dayo Simms

As pandemic lockdowns rolled into the summer, Simms spotted a professional opportunity at TikTok. She immediately reached out to a friend and colleague with connections at the platform, and in just a few weeks, successfully interviewed, landed an offer and started as privacy counsel in July.

For many of the same reasons the platform appealed to Simms, TikTok has seen tremendous growth throughout the pandemic. Alongside its rise in popularity with people of all ages, the company also faced challenges while keeping up with its rapid scale.

Simms was inspired to join TikTok because she believed her skillset and experience could make an impact, helping to dispel myths and safeguard what the startup has called “the last sunny corner of the internet.”

“Everything about TikTok feels so new and exciting,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed taking on challenges with companies that have captured attention and affinity from people worldwide. I find myself drawn to opportunities and environments that require educating audiences on serious questions because those dynamics uniquely position privacy practitioners to drive impact while building something special.”

Simms started her career in government, transitioned into technology through transportation, and now she’s tackling the vibrant world of culture and entertainment. Each of her professional moves has been driven by an ability to identify and seize opportunities, find inspiration and support from others, and follow growth at the intersection of privacy and tech.

Simms said she stumbled into privacy while earning an undergraduate degree in political science. In 2009, while attending a Johns Hopkins University career fair, she discovered an opening at the U.S. Social Security Administration. She began working in privacy compliance at SSA, helping to build government programs and processes related to privacy. Her work fostered a deep appreciation of privacy policy, along with her long-time interest in pursuing a law degree.

She was living in Baltimore and looking for professional opportunities closer to George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. — where she would earn her doctor of law through evening courses while continuing to advance her career — when she was invited to an event hosted by then-U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, CIPP/US. After hearing Callahan speak, Simms boldly introduced herself as a soon-to-be law student working in the privacy field and asked if Callahan would be willing to discuss an opening within the department to which Simms had applied. To Simms’ delight, Callahan welcomed the discussion.

Shortly thereafter, Simms interviewed for and accepted an offer to become a privacy analyst at DHS, then advanced to government information specialist in privacy, before moving onto the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2015. In her next role, Simms served as a senior privacy program specialist, helping to build the department’s privacy-by-design process.

Two years later, working and living in the city, Simms was an avid ride-share user, and an article featuring Bozoma Saint John, Uber's chief brand officer at the time, caught her eye. Saint John spoke about “bringing your whole self to work” and pursuing opportunities “that allow you to be authentic and be yourself,” Simms said. “I thought, 'I want to work with her.'” Simms quickly went online to see if the company had any open positions. As fate would have it, she discovered a privacy opening, pursued the opportunity and was welcomed to California's San Francisco Bay Area to take on her next challenge.

“The opportunity to help build a new privacy program was super exciting,” Simms said of her time at Uber, where she was hired as a privacy program manager before being promoted to associate counsel of privacy. “I got to work with some of the most interesting people and really enjoyed helping the company navigate a range of dynamic privacy issues.”

Simms skillfully applied her experience in government, including important initiatives, like privacy impact assessments, which were then new to private sector companies looking to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

“My background enabled me to say, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve been doing this stuff, working on (PIAs) and processes since 2009, and I can contribute to this,’” she said. “I helped build a lot of Uber's infrastructure around privacy, alongside incredibly smart colleagues and a good team of people who were all willing to work hard together. I learned so much and developed confidence that my experience could be truly impactful.”

At TikTok, Simms loves being a part of a product that impacts the lives of so many people, spanning small businesses to content creators. She feels “energized” contributing to “cool products and features while helping to support rapid growth.” Among the work she is most proud of is launching TikTok’s Transparency and Accountability Centers. Due to COVID-19 restrictions throughout the pandemic, TikTok has welcomed experts from around the world for virtual tours. In-person tours are set to open in Los Angeles, California, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Europe when restrictions lift.

“By providing insight into TikTok's practices, we hope to foster open dialogue with experts as we build upon our efforts to develop industry-leading policies and protections that create a safer and more secure experience on our platform,” she said. “It’s exciting to engage with diverse stakeholders and experts as they learn about our privacy and data security practices, including the measures we’re taking to safeguard user privacy and information.”

Through her years in government and transitioning to high-growth tech startups, Simms continues to be excited and inspired by her work.

“You can probably go to any industry and work on privacy issues,” she said. “Companies across sectors are dependent on data, and that information can be applied in a variety of ways, so it’s important to make sure users are protected. Building a career in privacy is fun and interesting, and I'm inspired by people in this field every day. The best part about contributing my privacy expertise to TikTok is the opportunity to work on a product that millions of people love, and it couldn’t feel more rewarding.”

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash


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