Leading by Design: A leadership profile of Dr. Ann Cavoukian and her passion for privacy


This post originally appeared on the Sklar Wilton & Associates blog

If you’ve read anything about privacy in the last few years, you’re certain to have come across the name Dr. Ann Cavoukian. And if you don’t recall her name, surely you’ve heard of her concept of Privacy by Design. With all the data breaches we’ve encountered over the last several years and the most recent debacle with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the value of privacy has never been more clear.

Ann Cavoukian, Privacy, CanadaPrivacy by Design is the idea that every piece of technology, every website, every tool and process ought to consider how to incorporate concepts of privacy from day one and throughout the entire development process. Historically, many products and services have been, and continue to be, built such that privacy is an afterthought – once the product or service has been fully developed, people try to figure out how to retroactively apply privacy components. This strategy can easily lead to unnecessary collection of data, awkward programming work-arounds, and privacy policies that are far too complex for regular people to understand. By accounting for privacy from the start, through Privacy by Design, many of these problems can be prevented or simplified.

Ann’s career is impressive. She had Privacy by Design in mind before serving three terms and 17 years as the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario, the largest province in Canada. Now, she is a distinguished visiting professor and Executive Director at Ryerson Universities Privacy and Big Data Institute. She is also a Senior Fellow of the Ted Rogers Leadership Centre at Ryerson University, and a Faculty Fellow of the Center for Law, Science & Innovation at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Her awards are numerous and include being named one of the Top 25 Women of Influence in Canada, ‘Power 50’ by Canadian BusinessTop 100 Leaders in Identity, and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada for taking her Privacy by Design concept globally.

What’s inspiring about Ann’s leadership is that she never wavered from her commitment to Privacy by Design. Twenty years ago, digital privacy wasn’t a thing. AOL Instant messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MSN messenger, and LiveJournal existed. Skype showed up in 2003, Facebook in 2004, and Reddit and YouTube in 2005. To the average person 20 years ago, privacy was boring and manifested as physically locked filing cabinets in locked rooms – impenetrable without two keys. Yet Ann had the foresight to realize that planning for digital privacy would become paramount. She’s held strong to this message for more than two decades.

Today, her Privacy by Design strategy has traversed the globe and been translated into 40 languages. In 2010, International Privacy Regulators unanimously passed a Resolution recognizing Privacy by Design as an international standard. As we progress with integrating artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning with our marketing technologies, we must take care to implement Privacy by Design. Not because regulators say we should, but because Ann has repeatedly demonstrated that it’s the right thing to do.

You can find Ann on TwitterLinkedinWikipedia, at Ryerson University’s Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence where she is the Distinguished Expert-in-Residence, or her foundation Global Privacy and Security By Design.

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This post was written in my role as a consultant for Sklar Wilton & Associates. SW&A has worked for more than 30 years with some of Canada’s most iconic brands to help them grow their brand, shape corporate culture, build successful innovation, define portfolio strategies, and maximize research ROI. They offer strategic advice, business facilitation, research management, qualitative/quantitative research, and analytics. SW&A was recognized as a Great Workplace for Women in 2018, and the Best Workplace in Canada for Small Companies in 2017 by the Great Place To Work® Institute. Inquire about their services here.

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