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The Privacy Advisor | Despite economic downturn, privacy jobs seem to be (mostly) safe Related reading: The struggle can be real: Getting hired in privacy today

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Privacy and those who make a career from it were thriving prior to COVID-19. The job market and job security for highly trained professionals within the space were on the upswing as privacy made its ascension to being a mainstream topic.

There were some initial thoughts and concerns that, like most industries, privacy and its professionals would feel the adverse effects of the pandemic in the way of layoffs and other budget-cutting measures. Those feelings came to light after some privacy pros, like Brandi Bennett, CIPP/US, revealed they were laid off as the pandemic was only just coming into focus.

However, recent data suggests privacy has been resilient and strong through these challenging times.

The IAPP conducted a global survey in April on privacy during the pandemic, including questions on staffing and budgets. The 933 respondents were optimistic about the future of privacy in the face of the pandemic with 72% foreseeing few to no layoffs from their respective privacy departments and 81% expect either a slight decrease or no change to their privacy budget.

"I’m not surprised that there hasn’t been a big drop off. No surprise at all really," Hogan Lovells Senior Counsel Chris Wolf said. "Businesses are recognizing more and more that they’re going to need to use personal data as they go virtual and storefronts close down."

The results didn’t catch Refinitiv Chief Privacy Officer Vivienne Artz by surprise either, noting that Europe is seeing the same, if not more, focus on privacy than before the health emergency.

"In dealing with the pandemic, it’s been demonstrated that privacy impacts all of our lives, both personally and professionally, across the spectrum," Artz said. “It is truly the horizontal impact that everyone is feeling. No matter what you do … privacy issues are popping up like mushrooms everywhere. It’s all helped to keep privacy’s profile high."

Privacy has prevailed given its presence in many pandemic-related areas, like generating personal health devices and contact tracing tools or more personalized scenarios like telework or online learning. But the foundation of privacy’s staying power during these uncertain times didn’t just materialize as the COVID-19 outbreak took shape.

"It’s part of how we operate as businesses and societies, so it’s now more an integral part of the rules and regulations by which we engage," Artz said. "When you start to embed privacy within an organization, it can’t be a standalone silo. It has to be embedded throughout an organization, and its many facets, to be effective. That’s changed hugely over the last 10 years because there’s really no alternative or choice when it comes to privacy compliance."

The pandemic has done little in the way of hindering efforts to comply with regulations. Organizations in the U.S. are in the midst of working on the California Consumer Privacy Act compliance while keeping tabs on the California Privacy Rights Act ballot initiative, but now Congressional Republicans and Democrats are exploring COVID-19-related federal privacy legislation that will likely require more compliance work.

"We’re in a time where there had been serious discussions about federal privacy legislation before the pandemic, and now we’re talking about COVID-19-related legislation, as well," Wolf said. "You see state legislatures continue to focus on privacy laws, too, which I think suggests a growth in the body of privacy law."

European privacy professionals face a slightly different landscape with the EU General Data Protection Regulation already established. Compliance remains paramount, but Artz foresees a potential rough patch for EU privacy in the wake of the pandemic.

"I think there will be an impact next year," Artz said. "Everyone is going to have some sort of impact on their budget. Privacy will likely have to share the pain with everyone else, though, I’m hoping that it won’t feel the impact more than other areas because of the prominence of the issues."

Despite the many positives in privacy's current landscape, privacy pros haven't been exempt from the effects of the pandemic. The layoffs that have occurred have lead current and prospective professionals to wonder if the personnel moves are a sign of a sudden decline in the value of privacy to a company's bottom line as executives see it.

"There’s a little bit of sleeping on the value of privacy and data strategy in general," said Bennett, formerly the vice president and counsel for data privacy at Endeavor. "Will there be people there climbing all over themselves for these positions in a few years? I don’t know if there will be given how hard it is to find people that can do privacy well at this stage."

Artz and Wolf agree that privacy and compliance can’t be set aside. While some companies might be forced to cut privacy personnel or budgets, others may be doing so willfully without full consideration. Artz warns that any conscious suppression of privacy "is at your peril," while Wolf said it would be "shortsighted" to do so because "it may end up costing more to deal with privacy problems."

With the current and future job market, privacy pros will continue to see peaks and valleys based on industry, according to Zachary Plotkin, a recruiter at Infinity Consulting Solutions. Plotkin said there has been an "uptick in demand for jobs and candidates" for industries that are using and holding more personal information than ever before.

"This virus has forced people to realize they don't see, know or have," Plotkin said. "We're seeing scrambling in a multitude of different ways, but it's simply to hire more people."

Bennett said she and fellow job seekers can't "pull back the curtain" to know who is or isn't hiring, but it's easy to guess where the opportunities are.

"Anything digital is full steam ahead. Businesses in the business-to-consumer space are doing extremely well," Bennett said. "Netflix subscriptions are way up, which means it could be a time for them to take advantage of the market and go out and try to attract people that otherwise wouldn’t be available."

For anyone setting their sights toward the post-pandemic job market, whether it be for the unemployed professional or one switching companies, Plotkin believes they might find themselves in a favorable position if they wait long enough.

"There will be a steady climb for six months to a year before we see a boom," Plotkin said. "From a privacy perspective, we're going to see a lot of data slipups with companies being less detail-oriented and running in a panic during that span. The same thing happened in 2008-2009 after the economic shutdown. You see a massive push for an increase in types of jobs after things like fraud and breaches come about."

Photo by Thomas Le on Unsplash

Privacy in the Wake of COVID-19

The IAPP and EY launched a research initiative to gain more insight into the unique ways privacy and data protection practices have been affected by the pandemic. The initial phase of the project included a survey of privacy professionals, taking a deeper look at how organizations, in general, and privacy programs, in particular, are handling the privacy and data protection issues that have emerged alongside COVID-19, such as privacy and security issues related to working from home, monitoring the health of employees, and sharing data with governments, researchers and public health authorities.

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