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The Privacy Advisor | How Do I Measure My Privacy by Design Program’s Success? Related reading: Notes from the IAPP Canada Managing Director, 8 Dec. 2023




By Libbie Canter and Jeff Kosseff, CIPP/US

During the IAPP’s Global Privacy Summit in March, we spoke at a preconference workshop about developing and implementing Privacy by Design programs. Companies, government agencies and other organizations are eager to build privacy considerations into all phases of their operations. Although the workshop lasted for four hours, it could have gone for the entire day thanks to excellent questions and comments from the audience.

Among the most thought-provoking questions: How do you measure the success of a Privacy by Design program?

As with many great questions, the answer is not simple. Privacy by Design is an evolving and dynamic concept that means many things to many people, and, therefore, it’s difficult to point to a single, objective measure of success.

This may create challenges when the C-suite or others want to know whether investments in Privacy by Design are paying off and whether the program is operating effectively. The sales department can point to year-over-year revenue increases. The marketing department can cite increased market share. What can privacy professionals present to demonstrate the efficacy of a Privacy by Design program?

To help consider this question, we reached out to Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, who is a prominent thought-leader for Privacy by Design principles. Cavoukian agreed that although there is not a single measure of success for Privacy by Design (PbD), she believes that it is vital to establish a system to measure the progress.

“PbD encourages adopters to establish clear privacy benchmarks, and then to surpass them in a transparent way for others to learn from and emulate,” Cavoukian wrote. “Importantly, they provide a framework for demonstrating compliance for regulatory authorities and, increasingly, for business partners and customers. Well-constructed, they reflect outcomes that support the business case for privacy. The privacy program’s measurement system is a critical dimension of its overall success.”

To evaluate the success of a Privacy by Design program, there are guideposts, both objective and subjective, available to organizations. When used together, these tools can help privacy professionals and managers determine whether a Privacy by Design program is meeting its initial goals:  

  • Privacy Impact Assessments: Privacy impact assessments, which assess how the organization collects, processes and shares information, can help an organization determine whether its Privacy by Design program is working. These routine assessments allow an organization to step back and evaluate whether it is meeting the goals outlined by its Privacy by Design program. Organizations might consider hiring outside firms to conduct the assessments; an evaluation by an outside firm may bring to light issues that had not been considered internally, and it may be seen as a more objective review than an internal one.
  • Industry Benchmarks: Organizations and managers also are eager to compare their results with industry-wide benchmarks. Though there is not one fully accepted set of benchmarks, among the most effective tools for such comparison is the Privacy Maturity Model developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This system uses Generally Accepted Privacy Principles as a benchmark.

“These are useful because they enable organizations to self-evaluate against reasonably objective criteria and to establish a benchmark against which progress can be continually evaluated,” Cavoukian wrote.

  • Employee Training: Key to all Privacy by Design programs are ongoing educational programs that teach employees across the organization how to incorporate privacy into products, services and programs. Organizations might keep track of the number of employees trained and the frequency of the training sessions. But those numbers only tell part of the story. Organizations also might attempt to measure the quality of the training through surveys of employees after the training sessions. Organizations also might consider incorporating small quizzes into their training sessions to gauge whether employees are absorbing the material.
  • Number of Data Breaches: If properly implemented, a Privacy by Design program should help prevent data breaches and other incidents that improperly expose personal information. For large organizations, it may be useful to look at whether the number of breaches or incidents has dropped since adopting Privacy by Design. Of course, the number of data breaches is of limited utility as a metric because it is impossible to know the number of data breaches that would have happened without a Privacy by Design program.
  • Consumer Satisfaction: Cavoukian suggests that a useful surrogate may be found in the organization’s data about customer complaints.

“To the extent that privacy-related issues are separately enumerated, it can be useful to study their trend as related to the implementation of the privacy program,” she noted.

Though we would like to be able to point to more concrete metrics for measuring success, privacy professionals must look to a number of sources to gauge their progress. Despite the challenges, there are both business and compliance reasons for managers to evaluate?and seek to improve?their privacy programs on an ongoing basis. As Privacy by Design continues to evolve, privacy professionals likely will develop more sophisticated and efficient ways to measure progress.

Libbie Canter and Jeff Kosseff, CIPP/US, privacy attorneys at Covington & Burling, LLP, help clients design Privacy by Design programs.


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