How much of your personal data is out there, available for companies to slice and dice—and potentially for hackers to find? Your username and password information to your e-mail account? Your medical records? Your government identification numbers? What about all of the information in your connected devices?
Many companies are moving toward a digital business model, which is generating a massive amount of data about customers. With that proliferation of customer data also comes valuable opportunities for companies to analyze and act upon it. But the explosion of data is also creating a very big, mostly invisible window into people’s private lives that may leave them very vulnerable to identity theft and other crimes.
New privacy laws and incidents of privacy violations, identity theft, and compromise of personal and sensitive information are compounding, which is pressuring companies to prioritize data privacy, security, and compliance. Failure to do so could mean damage to their brand and shareholder value—and even enforcement action by US federal agencies or class action lawsuits.
Data privacy is now a topic that boards need to stay on top of. Directors will want to regularly ask management questions about the company’s efforts to protect its customers’ personal information. Here are five questions boards can ask management about the topic.
1. What is our total dollar exposure to data privacy risk, exclusive of data security? Violating established privacy and data security practices can be costly. According to analysis of government data by PwC, in 2016, companies paid nearly $250 million in privacy and security related fines. It’s critical for the board meet with the right people to understand what steps the company is taking to protect its sensitive information. By meeting with the chief risk, information security, and privacy officers, the board can get a better picture of the state of privacy risk, including the dollar value of the worst possible data privacy risk event. The board also needs to determine if it is receiving the information it needs to oversee privacy risk. And if it’s not, the board needs to ask for and get it from management.
2. How effective is our data privacy strategy? Data is starting to change companies’ business strategies. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of CEOs believe that management of data will be a differentiating factor in the future. For some companies, it already is. The board should ask management to explain the company’s data privacy strategy and outline any goals around data collection and use. Is the data-driven business strategy to grow sales and revenue, improve customer experience, trust and relationships, differentiate the business, or get a competitive edge? Once the board understands that strategy, it can have discussions with management about whether the strategy is effective. The board will want to ask management for updates to that strategy and changes to any plans to achieve those data-related goals.
3. How ready is the company to provide evidence of compliance to privacy regulators? Companies that collect and use personal data need to pay close attention to privacy laws. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—the world’s toughest privacy law—goes into effect in 2018, and the deadline for compliance is May of next year. It is notable that businesses that do not comply with GDPR face a potential fine of 4% of global revenues. Boards need to understand other laws and regulations around data privacy, too. They should ask management about what the company is doing to comply with data privacy laws. Is management ensuring the company stays on schedule to meet the law’s requirements and stays within budget for its compliance efforts? Boards should ask if the company has a data privacy compliance program, what the program entails, and how the company accounts for all the data the company collects, including where it’s housed. Boards need to be assured that management has the right processes and controls in place to mitigate any risk to that data.
4. Are the company’s plans for adopting new technologies and data analytics in sync with emerging global privacy regulations? Directors will want to look beyond compliance with current laws to the ethical issues that data use present. Just because a company collects data doesn’t mean it can—or should—use it, or allow third parties to access it. Data ethics standards are an emerging topic of practice, which means there aren’t always clear rules or laws outlining how companies can use personal customer data. Consider, for example, that some companies may use technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to surveil for terrorist activity. There are few, if any, regulations around this type of implementation, which could leave these companies open to ethical scrutiny. Directors will want to discuss with management how to draw these ethical and privacy lines in the sand and how the company ensures they are not crossed. Boards will also want to ask how the company evaluates the privacy impact of new products or third-party partners.
5. Is the company’s privacy organization sufficiently resourced to enable its growth plan? Data privacy concerns may become bigger if the company grows. The more customers it attracts, the more data about them it may be collecting and analyzing. As the company’s data collection grows larger, the importance of having a data-use framework also grows. A good framework is one that outlines the collection of data, where and how it’s stored, how it’s protected, how it’s being used, any training on data privacy policies, and what the plan is if there is a breach. The board will want to meet with the chief information security and chief privacy officers to discuss the framework and ask how it’s being implemented, tracked, and enforced.
If the board regularly talks to management, asks questions, and gets answers and information, it will be in a good position to effectively oversee the company’s data privacy, protection, and compliance program.
Paula Loop is the leader of PwC’s Governance Insights Center and is a well-known speaker on a variety of governance topics. As a PwC partner and with more than 20 years of experience, Paula brings extensive knowledge in governance, technical accounting, and SEC and financial reporting matters to organizations.
Jay Cline is PwC’s Global Privacy Co-Lead. He has over 20 years of experience and is a nationally recognized thought leader in the privacy profession. He has deep knowledge of law, technology, and business, and specializes in all major privacy legislation and information security standards. In his work, Jay has helped private and public sector clients comply with data privacy and security regulations across nearly every sector.