Break Out the Party Hats and Confetti: It's Data Privacy Day!

Companies Working in Data Space Try to Draw Attention to Issues Without the Noise of a Scandal

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Companies including Intel and Verizon are tweeting about it, Merck and Lockheed Martin are sponsors, and tech wonks say they're ready to geek out on it.

Yet whether this year's international Data Privacy Day leads to real awareness outside privacy and security circles remains to be seen. Today there are DPD-associated events around the country and across the globe and those concerned with data privacy issues hope they raise consumer and corporate awareness of issues that are top-of-mind this year, including the Internet of Things, data breach security and increasingly sophisticated data analytics practices.

"Privacy has had a PR problem," said Natalie Fonseca, co-founder and executive producer of Privacy Identity Innovation, which hosted its own pii2014 conference in November. "It usually comes up in the media in one of two ways: either as part of a story about how technology is killing -- or has killed -- privacy, or because a company has come under fire for mishandling personal information. The hope is that efforts like Data Privacy Day can generate buzz about privacy in a different context by highlighting why it's important for companies and organizations to be responsible data stewards."

Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, a nonprofit public-private partnership that has run Data Privacy Day in the US since 2011, expects Internet of Things, or IoT to be a hot topic this year. "I think it's reached an inflection point in terms of actually coming into people's lives," said Mr. Kaiser regarding IoT. "Everything's going to have a sensor in it."

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday unveiled its report on IoT, concluding it is too early for legislators to craft data privacy and security protection laws specific to Internet-connected devices and products. FTC commissioners will speak at events held by Online Trust Alliance in conjunction with DPD.

A seminar on IoT will be held today at the San Diego Gas and Electric Energy Innovation Center in San Diego by CyberTech, a cyber security organization.

Because Data Privacy Day serves as an umbrella for a variety of corporate initiatives and events held by companies and organizations, the NCSA doesn't know exactly whether there are more DPD-related plans this year than in previous years. However, Mr. Kaiser said, "My sense is that there are definitely more."

Health and medical data privacy is on the agenda at an event at the Academy of Medicine at Georgia Tech. Pharma firm Merck's DPD sponsorship will be used in part to pay for a live stream of the event online, according to Mr. Kaiser. Sponsors, which also include leading sponsor Ghostery, a company providing consumer- and business-aimed data-privacy services, help underwrite the NCSA's promotion of Data Privacy Day, said Mr. Kaiser. Ghostery's Chief Privacy Officer Todd Ruback was scheduled to address European Parliament today on privacy issues, according to Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer.

"The cross-border impacts are huge," said Mr. Meyer. "You're seeing international recognition of this issue."

Indeed, Data Privacy Day has its roots in Europe where an international treaty protecting personal data of citizens of member states of the Council of Europe, from Albania to Ukraine, was signed in 1981. It wasn't until 2008 that the US and Canada started DPD events. A year ago yesterday, Jan. 28 was designated as National Data Privacy Day in the U.S.

Corporations use the day to help educate employees about data privacy and security issues. TV data firm Rentrak is promoting the event internally and IT Operations staff will conduct free security evaluations of staff personal laptops, tablets and mobile phones, according to Jerry Humes, executive director of IT risk management for the company.

IBM planned to hold a chat on Twitter with privacy staff today. "I admit that I have not 'celebrated' Data Privacy Day in the past, as it were. However, I am looking to change that this year," said Bill Rippon, chief information security officer at IBM Research, on Twitter.

With the White House and congress pushing for a federal data-breach notification law, it's no surprise data security is another important topic this year. Businesses "need to know who has access to their data the same way as consumers do," said Mr. Meyer, noting that security-by-design will be a buzzword going forward, expanding on the privacy-by-design trend in software and product development.

Privacy wonks around the world also will turn up at one of many networking gatherings held by the International Association of Privacy Professionals this evening in Bogota, Columbia, Bratišlava, Slovakia, Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon.

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