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One of the leading figures in the U.S. multi-stakeholder privacy process is leaving the public sector to take on new efforts in the private space. John Verdi announced Friday that he is leaving the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and, today, the Future of Privacy Forum has announced he will join the think tank as its new VP of Policy. 

In an email sent out to stakeholders announcing Verdi’s departure Friday afternoon, the NTIA’s John B. Morris said the agency is “very sad that he is leaving, but wish him well in his next venture,” adding, “As all of you know, John’s poise, patience, and good humor have been invaluable to those (multi-stakeholder) efforts.”

“This is a fantastic opportunity to work with a great team,” Verdi said during a phone interview with The Privacy Advisor. “I have tried at the NTIA, and now at FPF, to work on interesting projects with great people. Plus, the FPF occupies a special place in the privacy landscape.”

Though it’s too early for Verdi to say what projects he’ll be jumping on, he did highlight a number of meta issues that are on his radar. “It’s clear that FPF plays an important role on issues like big data, the Internet of Things, education, autonomous vehicles, de-identification, and ethics,” he said. “As things come down the road, we’ll look at interesting and emerging areas where products and services will create benefits for consumers but raise questions about privacy. As they emerge, I think the FPF will engage on these issues.” 

FPF Chief Executive Jules Polonetsky, CIPP/US, is excited about Verdi’s new role. “John has managed a really challenging process working with advocates, businesses, and academics as part of his efforts at Commerce,” he said. “FPF similarly works with these groups to achieve consensus, so we are looking forward to the skills he will bring in helping us.”

Verdi has been an instrumental figure in the Department of Commerce’s initiative to create multi-stakeholder solutions to challenging privacy issues, including efforts to create mobile app disclosure standards as well as standards for facial recognition, and most recently, unmanned aerial vehicles.

Following a successful multi-stakeholder effort around mobile privacy disclosures, the NTIA’s attempts in finding a solution to facial recognition technology has traversed a more rocky road. Last June, a group of privacy advocates walked out of the multi-stakeholder process in protest. The process, however, continued and is still ongoing today. 

The latest effort around UAVs – though under the radar – has gone smoother. Verdi said this latest process has moved rapidly and is still on track toward completion. “I’m very proud of their work,” he said. “This process has gone very well.”

Polonetsky praised Verdi’s diplomatic acumen, saying he has “navigated his work with great dignity, working with a range of views, and trying to move the privacy discussion forward.”

Verdi says he has learned a lot during his four-year tenure with the NTIA. “The main thing for me,” he said, “is that stakeholders are capable of amazing things when they are committed to reaching outcomes that are better than the status quo. When the NTIA, or anyone, convenes a multi-stakeholder engagement, selecting the topic is really important. The process isn’t going to solve every problem, but it is a super useful tool for solving a particular set of issues,” he explained. 

However, when stakeholders are satisfied by the status quo, he said, things become very challenging. It’s when stakeholders prefer progress that things can move forward, he said.

Verdi recalled that some of his favorite moments at the NTIA were when stakeholders developed initiatives that he could never have predicted. During the mobile disclosures process, for example, several stakeholders created two repositories with open-sourced code that would allow app developers to implement short-form, readable privacy policies. “That was an idea that came from Morgan Reed and Tim Sparapani,” head of the Association for Competitive Technology and VP at the App Developers Alliance, at the time, he said. Stakeholders developed the idea, talked about it, and made it happen.

format_quote“I was delighted by moments like that, when problems we never anticipated were solved." -John Verdi, now of the Future of Privacy Forum

“I was delighted by moments like that, when problems we never anticipated were solved,” Verdi explained. “To me, the key to these multi-stakeholder processes is to have smart people in the room who can come up with these solutions.”

He also noted that stakeholders who care the most are the ones that most often take the lead. It’s a process that requires hard work, resources, time, and energy. Verdi said he was surprised, for example, at how active and constructive the International Biometrics Industry Association has been during the facial recognition process. “I didn’t realize they would have been as active as they’ve been," he said. "They’ve been a dedicated group that cares about these issues and have been super engaged.”

Though he’s excited about his next move, Verdi is thankful to those who brought him into the NTIA, his colleagues, and the stakeholders. “The folks who brought me in really gave me a gift by allowing me to work on these issues,” he said. “And the stakeholders who came into the room and really tried during the process. I owe these folks a great deal of gratitude.”

Verdi is also confident that his successor, Travis Hall, is up to the task. “He and the team are fantastic,” he said. “I am confident they will continue the work we’ve started, and I’m excited to see the incredible stuff they will produce.”

1 Comment

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  • comment Jeffrey Chester • May 9, 2016
    The Multi-stakeholder initiative led by Mr. Verdi's former employer is a failure by all measures.  Under its process, Americans have experienced greater loss of their privacy, including on mobile apps, social networks, cross-device tracking, via data brokers and much more.  What the process was successful in doing, was helping the very companies that support unchecked data collection, to remain unfettered to do so.