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The Privacy Advisor | Volunteer Spotlight: Alexandra Ross Related reading: What does it mean to be a chief data ethics officer?

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The Privacy Advisor recently caught up with Alexandra Ross, CIPP/E, CIPP/US, CIPM, CIPT, founder of The Privacy Guru and director and senior global privacy and data security counsel at AutoDesk, a leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. Ross launched The Privacy Guru blog in January of 2014 to facilitate a safe, engaging space for people of all walks of life to learn about privacy and security. Her mission is to demystify complex privacy issues and help us make mindful privacy choices that align with our personal values. Ross is a member of the Publications Advisory Board, leader of the San Francisco Bay KnowledgeNet chapter and host of Privacy After Hours events.

The Privacy Advisor: When you go to a cocktail party, how the heck do you explain 3-D printers?
Ross: Here's the answer that everyone can use to look super smart and cool at their next cocktail party: 3D printing, also Rosscalled additive manufacturing, is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital design.

You start with a digital model, you can use computer aided design software or animation software, then you slice that design into layers. You modify the software so that design can be printed in layers, that’s the additive part, and that's what's happening when you see those large 3D printers. It's taking the software of the digital model and printing in different layers of any kind of material. 

The Privacy Advisor: What about the growth of privacy and data protection has surprised you most?
Ross: When I started in privacy, privacy wasn’t a thing. It was part of intellectual property. What I am most surprised by are the ongoing conversations. We are seeing so much intelligent and insightful media coverage of privacy and data security issues. I follow a lot of journalists who write about mindful use of technology, big data, the way that companies are collecting and using data and the way that governments are collecting and using data about citizens. Some of the journalists I particularly admire are Kashmir Hill, Tony Romm, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac. There's also a lot of great podcasts— the Recode Media podcast, the Note to Self podcast, and of course Angelique’s podcast for the IAPP.

The Privacy Advisor: I’ve heard you’re an author, what do you write and how hard is it to self-publish?
Ross: I write a blog at my website, theprivacyguru.com. I try to write at least once a month, sometimes I can get two out a month. I also wrote an e-book a couple of years ago called Privacy for Humans (which is available on iTunes and Amazon). I write about privacy issues, primarily consumer privacy issues, but also topics of interests to privacy professionals.

It wasn’t that hard to self-publish the e-book. I found some good experts to assist with technical and design aspects, and I get some editing with my blog posts periodically. The hardest part is setting aside time to write and developing something meaningful to say to add to the conversation about privacy. I would love to write another e-book after we get through GDPR and I have a little free time.

The Privacy Advisor: What do you see as the biggest challenge in your job?
Ross: Like most people, I think it's prioritization of how and what to focus on at any given moment. I have a global role at AutoDesk, and I lead a team of attorneys and also work with our privacy and operations teams.  We, like many tech companies, are looking at issues in the U.S., Europe, Asia and emerging markets. The challenge, that’s also creative and interesting  about our jobs as privacy professionals, is how do we prioritize, what do we focus on, how do we balance compliance obligation, the laws and regulation that impact us, best practices our peers are doing, what our customers are demanding, and then how do we best position our legal advice and counsel and development of the privacy program? What aligns with our company culture, what's workable, what will be meaningfully and successfully implemented? Its picking your battles and finding the right issues where you're going to be successful.

The Privacy Advisor: Have you seen the profile of privacy change?
Ross: Definitely, in a positive direction. Privacy attorneys, chief privacy officers, the whole privacy profession is now much more visible, and the good part about that is that there's an opportunity to be much more strategic. We have a voice at the table, we have more access to the board of directors and the executives, we are also able to take more of a comprehensive view, in my opinion. Privacy is not always siloed engineering, security or marketing the way it used to be, but we’re starting to look at privacy by design and taking a more holistic approach. Finally, with all the operational and programmatic aspects of privacy, that goes beyond just the privacy legal advice, it enables privacy pros to be much more proactive, rather than reactive.

The Privacy Advisor: Has your job become easier to explain to friends and family?
Ross: Yes, somewhat. When I worked in intellectual property, I think my family understood a little bit of what that entailed. Now that I work in privacy and data security, I think they understand it in theory and are beginning to understand the context a little bit more because they are seeing tangible examples. They also, in some instances, may have been directly affected by a data breach or identity theft. They are dealing with social media, they’re dealing with what kind of settings and what should they be sharing and struggling with how they view technology.

My sister has a small child: How much does she expose my nephew to technology, what kind of information is she sharing online, and things like that. In that context, when there is such tangible instances to talk about with my friends and family, what I do for a job in privacy and data security has been much more applicable in the decisions they’re making in technology in their daily lives.

They’re mindful of it and want to make informed choices, which I definitely support. 

The Privacy Advisor: What do you do when you get away from your desk?
Ross: I am a big cinephile. Oscar season is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to keep up with all of the movies that are nominated and dive deep into all the great movies, directors, documentaries and all the things that are out there. That’s what I've been doing most recently. I would highly recommend Faces Places.

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