Gartner: Enterprises Must Revise Privacy Policies


Privacy policies need revamping for cloud, location-based services, security breaches and new regulations

As a result of recent high-profile data breaches and various changes in technology, organisations are expected to revise privacy policies by the end of next year, Gartner researchers predict.

As cloud computing and location-based services proliferate, organisations are grappling with the privacy implications of having data reside outside corporate control, Gartner said in a report released on 8 August.

Privacy ‘chronically underfunded’

The steady string of data breaches that have hit practically every industry sector and organisations of all sizes, and changes in compliance regulations will also force organisations to review and revise their current privacy policies before the end of 2012, Gartner analysts said.

New threats to personal data and privacy emerged in 2010, but budgets for implementing privacy protection remained low, wrote Carsten Casper, research director at Gartner. Casper expects the budget crisis to continue throughout 2011 and 2012, with privacy programmes “chronically underfunded”.

More than half of companies will tweak the policies they already have to bring them up-to-date with new technologies and computing models, Gartner said. Data breaches ranked high on the priority list because they affect so many aspects of the business. But preparing for and following up on breaches was “straightforward”, and privacy officials should not be spending more than 10 percent of their time dealing with data breaches, according to Gartner.

“Most controls exist anyway if security management is working properly,” according to Gartner.

Regardless of what Gartner suggests, organisations are spending a lot of time resolving data breaches. Sony spent nearly a month rebuilding the PlayStation Network after a massive attack compromised user accounts in April. Sony will spend more months and years dealing with lawsuits from customers claiming damages as a result of the data breaches.


A recent Ponemon Institute and HP Arcsight report found that the average time to resolve a cyber-attack was 18 days, and that a malicious insider attack could take more than 45 days on average to contain.

Gartner made some specific recommendations to protect data from breaches, such as compartmentalising personal information and restricting access to only the smallest number of users, and keeping track of who has privileges to view the data. Data should be encrypted when being transmitted across public networks and stored on portable devices and on other forms of storage, Gartner said. The report also recommended using data-loss-prevention tools, tokenisation, data-masking and privacy-management tools.

Depending on the nature of the business, privacy officers will focus 5 to 25 percent of their time on location services, Gartner said. While not every organisation processes geo-location data from GPSes, the nearest cell tower, nearby wireless access points, smart meter identifiers and IP addresses, organisations need to be well versed in ways to avoid a potential “privacy scandal”, such as a smartphone application storing more location information than necessary, Gartner said.

Many organisations are currently compiling “vast” amounts of data without a “clear plan of what to do with it,” Gartner said, noting the practice violates a fundamental privacy principle of “collect information only for the purpose for which you need it.”

Gartner also claimed cloud computing and privacy are “innately at odds” because the laws that apply to the specific country in which the organisation is headquartered doesn’t apply to data residing on public clouds because it doesn’t reside in any one particular country. Even so, privacy compliance does not require that data has to stay within the country, as organisations should focus on the location of the cloud provider, not of its data centres.

Finding the balance

“Most privacy laws have some flexibility, guidance is evolving slowly, and in many cases, there are legally acceptable solutions,” Gartner said. Privacy officials should support IT’s cloud and offshore initiatives while implementing “maximum privacy protection” for customers and employees. Gartner estimated that privacy in the cloud would consume 20 to 30 percent of the officer’s time.

Organisations need to find the balance between “not enough” protection and “too much” protection, Gartner said. Privacy officials should not look at legal requirements as “they trail technical innovation and cultural change by several years,” according to Gartner. There should be a process to identify stakeholders for personal information, gather requirements, influence how the requirements are implemented and make adjustments when necessary. With the process in place, the execution should not take up more than 10 percent of the privacy official’s time.

Finally, regulatory changes should not “distract” privacy officials, Gartner said, because most regulatory changes have only a “mid- to long-term effect.” Monitoring for changes and adjusting existing processes “are important tasks,” but should not consume more than 5 to 10 percent of the officer’s time, Gartner said.

The remaining 15 to 20 percent of the privacy officer’s time should be spent executing the privacy programme, revising policies, following up on incidents and managing relations, Casper said.

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