Want more evidence privacy is becoming a mainstream concern? The big brands at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas had their privacy messages down pat. While you might not have seen privacy as part of the in-booth marketing, the marketing and communications folks manning the booths were ready—even hoping for—privacy questions from reporters.

At least one brand, however, did, in fact, have “privacy” emblazoned across a big booth panel: 3M. The company has coined the term “visual hacking” and was pitching a suite of products to combat the loss of PII via people peeking over the shoulder of workers both in the office environment and out and about, on a plane or train, for example.

3M featured privacy prominently in its booth messaging at CES.

3M featured privacy prominently in its booth messaging at CES.

“We’re primarily selling to the large enterprise,” said Paul Conley, global marketing manager for the Specialty Display Systems business unit at 3M. “It’s another tool for the privacy toolkit.”

Offering a variety of screen protectors, even a software piece that identifies when someone is looking over your shoulder and fuzzes out your screen, 3M is even a sponsor of the Visual Privacy Advisory Council, which offers a variety of resources. The software, Conley noted, is particularly attractive for chief privacy officers (CPOs) looking to integrate visual hacking into their risk registers, as it provides a log of all the peeking eyes that came in a given day.

That understanding of how CPOs do their jobs was not unique to 3M, though. Yet another phone targeting executives and high-level government and military types was on display at CES: the Lock Phone. “We know that some phones require you to be on a certain carrier,” came the pitch from the woman passing out materials to passersby, “and your organization might have a deal with a certain carrier. We’re carrier-agnostic.” She said the chief information security officer (CISO) was the most common entry point to a company, or a CEO, but that CPOs are starting to be more frequently in the conversation.

There was even a company pitching a “private” smart watch. GoldKey’s director of investor relations, Pajet Monet, virtually hopped up and down when asked about privacy as a marketing factor: “Finally! A privacy question!”

VP of Sales Joshua Billings said the company’s calling card has always been hard tokens for AES 256-bit encryption, but now it is pitching a soft token to allow for encrypted communications from devices like the watch. He said the CISO is usually the first point of contact, or “sometimes straight from the CEO level—they don’t want to see their emails in the news.” However, “often the privacy officer will now have some say-so on that.”

The environment is ripe, he said, for privacy officers to make more persuasive cases for secure communications and data governance.

Further, Karen Sohl, director of global communications at Belkin, said privacy “comes up daily” in product and marketing discussions. “Privacy is really important to us and to our customers. We want them to know that we collect data, but we don’t share it.”

What high-powered exec doesn't want a Lock Phone?

What high-powered exec doesn't want a Lock Phone?

She said the company consults with a customer advisory group on privacy issues, that they practice data minimization and that privacy is “bred into our DNA.”

Similarly, Garmin Media Relations Associate Maddie Estrada immediately said, “We take privacy very seriously,” when asked about the company’s stance. “It’s always been a big concern. We’ve been in the wearables space for a really long time, and it’s something we’ve always taken very seriously.”

While privacy doesn’t feature prominently in marketing materials, “in a place like CES, it’s definitely one of the big factors” people are asking about, she said. “But it’s not at the forefront all the time.” Features come first, “but privacy is definitely a consideration.”

And this seems to be where the consumer electronics market is right now. Privacy is a factor. Brands are prepared with a message should it come up as a concern for consumers. But it’s not something you’re seeing in marketing messages alongside the size of screens or the speed of processors.


Written By

Sam Pfeifle


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