In April, global privacy professionals met in person in Washington, DC, for the International Association of Privacy Professionals’ (IAPP) Global Privacy Summit (GPS). Speakers revealed how the lack of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the US globally impacts constituents, marketers, and companies alike. To recap the conference and key takeaways for marketers, I’ll hand it over to Research Associate Alex Schanne.

Companies have an opportunity to use privacy as a competitive differentiator. For example, Apple and Microsoft are making waves with their efforts in consumer privacy and ethical data use. Both companies were keynote speakers.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook opened the conference with a keynote nod to Melvin Kranzberg’s first law of technology, prompting attendees to consider how technology isn’t good or bad, but rather a mirror. Technology’s impact is determined by the actions and intentions of the user, the maker, and the regulator.

Cook called on companies to confront how they’ve used technological determinism to excuse poor behaviors like data collection without proper privacy or data retention policies. After all, an unregulated company that misbehaves is no more ethical than it would be under a federal regulation.

He called privacy “the most essential battle of our time.” Similarly, Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith delivered a keynote that called privacy a fundamental human right and a critical issue. He described four key ingredients for the successful preservation of the right to privacy:

  1. A mature, collaborative technology sector. Businesses need to embrace regulation as an equalizer instead of focusing on potential competitive advantages. This shift in mindset will encourage a collective effort to serve the common good. This is particularly poignant as we compare consumers’ expectations of companies against their expectation of government. For example, they trust companies to lead the change more than they do government. And, as he reminds us, the US’s failure to pass a federal privacy law does not prevent progress; it only diminishes US influence — especially considering over 100 countries have national privacy laws.
  2. Well-informed coordination between governments. Regulating technology requires open dialogue to continue to adapt and grow with the industry. Smith points to the UK’s Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) as an example of collaboration. In the US, the federal government has advanced a bipartisan commission to look at the future of technology.
  3. Coordination across borders. Lack of coordination plagues transatlantic privacy and collaboration. This point really reiterates the need for open discussion between governments. While brands tend to balk at the thought of increasing government regulation, coordination between governments can smooth the friction between cross-border business and consumer relationships.
  4. Leaders who can think creatively and across boundaries. This is essential. Forrester’s research highlights the need for a data strategy and for marketers to embrace privacy, but privacy is a cross-functional practice. Proper privacy and ethical data use needs to be enacted across organizations with buy-in from different stakeholders.

Privacy as a fundamental right may seem obvious, but it hardly speaks to the reality. The right to privacy is not inherent in our legislation, particularly in the US, and it became abundantly clear just how far the US is falling behind throughout the sessions at #GPS22. Marketers don’t need to make the same mistake. Apple and Microsoft have embraced the challenge and have advanced not in spite of it, but because of it.