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Privacy Engineering: How is this Growing Specialization Influencing Data Compliance?

GettyImages-1162361864Data is now the most valuable commodity in the world, surpassing oil, according to the Economist. The growing amount of personal data collected, processed, and shared on digital platforms by companies means protecting this data is a business imperative. As global cyberattacks continue to rise, companies are engineering systems that protect sensitive data from cybercriminals and respect user privacy expectations and regulatory requirements. As a result, companies are exploring the evolving discipline of privacy engineering to ensure data compliance and safety.

Cybersecurity professionals interested in pivoting into privacy engineering should know that it is a multidisciplinary field that requires a combination of technical, legal, and communication skills. Professionals should be willing to continuously learn emerging cybersecurity practices, privacy laws, and regulations to guide software implementation decisions.

In this blog, we will define privacy engineering, catalog common professionals transitioning into the field, showcase high-profile data breaches, identify data protection laws, investigate machine learning applications, and forecast the future of privacy engineering. Let's dive in!


What is Privacy Engineering?

Privacy engineering is the process of designing and implementing systems and software with privacy in mind. It involves applying privacy principles, such as data minimization, transparency, and user control, throughout the entire software development lifecycle. Privacy engineering aims to ensure that personal data is collected, used, and shared in ways consistent with user expectations and applicable privacy laws and regulations.


The Implications of a Data Breach

Data breaches can erode consumer trust in several ways. When a company experiences a data breach, it can expose consumers' personal and financial information, which can be used for identity theft, fraud, or other malicious activities. This can result in financial losses, damage to credit scores, and other negative consequences for consumers.

Furthermore, a data breach can make consumers feel that their privacy has been violated, leading to feelings of anger, frustration, and betrayal. Consumers are left thinking that the company failed to take adequate steps to protect their personal information.

As a result, consumers may lose trust in the company and its ability to protect their personal information. They may be hesitant to provide their personal information to the company in the future or to use its products or services. This can have long-term implications for the company's reputation and bottom line, as consumers may choose to take their business elsewhere.


Data Privacy Laws

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a broad data privacy law that went into effect in the European Union (EU) in 2018. The law sets out strict requirements for how organizations collect, use, and protect EU citizens' data. Even if an organization exists outside of Europe, they are still obligated to abide by the law. The primary goal is to increase transparency and accountability in data processing activities.


California Privacy RIGHTS Act (CPRA)

The California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) gives California residents the right to know what personal information is being collected about them by businesses, along with the intended use of information. Residents can request that their information be corrected if inaccurate or outright deleted within reason. The CPRA applies to for-profit businesses headquartered in California that meet any of the following criteria. First, have an annual revenue greater than $25 million. Second, buy, sell, or receive personal information of 100,000 or more California residents. Third, obtain more than half of their annual revenue from selling state residents' personal information.


4 High-Profile Data Breaches



Between 2013-2014 over 3 billion user accounts were impacted in a data breach at Yahoo, including email addresses, names, dates of birth, and hashed passwords. Yahoo confirmed that over 500 million user accounts were exposed in the cyberattack.


2. Target

In 2013, approximately 41 million customers had their credit and debit card information compromised in a data breach at the mega-retailer. Target was forced to pay $18.5 million in settlement to the affected consumers, a massive blow to the company's financial health.


3. Capital One

In 2019, over 100 million customers and applicants had their personal and financial information compromised in a data breach at Capital One. Highly sensitive data was released, including credit scores, credit limits, balances, payment history, social security numbers, and bank account numbers.



In 2016, 57 million users had their personal information, including names, email addresses, and phone numbers, compromised in a data breach at the ride-hailing company. To make matters worse, the Chief Security Officer attempted to cover up the data breach. As a result, Uber was forced to pay $148,000 in settlement fees—a massive blow to the company's reputation and bottom line.


5 Common Professions Transitioning into Privacy Engineering 


1. Cybersecurity professionals

It is common for those with a cybersecurity background to transition into privacy engineering. Often these professionals have practical experience with protecting data, mitigating risks, and analyzing threats, which can be valuable in privacy engineering.


2. Data scientists

Professionals with a background in data science often have experience working with large data sets and are familiar with data analysis, manipulation, and visualization techniques. This experience can be valuable in privacy engineering, where understanding and managing data is critical.


3. Legal and Compliance professionals

Lawyers and compliance professionals with experience in privacy laws and regulations can transition into privacy engineering. They may have experience with data protection laws and can help ensure that data collection, use, and storage comply with legal requirements.


4. Software engineers and developers

Professionals with a software engineering or development background may have experience building systems that collect and manage data. This experience can be valuable in privacy engineering, where the ability to design secure systems that protect personal data is critical.


5. Product managers

 Product managers may have experience working with user data and understand the importance of privacy for end users. They can work with engineering teams to design privacy-centric products.


How is Machine Learning being used to further Privacy Engineering?

Machine learning is a pivotal component of privacy engineering applications. For those not familiar with machine learning, it refers to a type of artificial intelligence that enable computer systems to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed automatically.

A function of machine learning is data mapping. Data Mapping can be extremely useful for privacy engineers to map the flow of that data throughout the organization. This can help identify areas where data may be at greater risk and allow privacy engineers to implement measures to better protect personal data.

Additionally, automation can be leveraged to conduct risk assessments. By analyzing data sets with machine learning, privacy engineers can also identify potential risks to personal data, such as unauthorized access or data breaches. Understanding the potential risks to personal data, privacy engineers can take proactive measures to protect that data and minimize the risk of a privacy incident.

Lastly, machine learning can help with the classification of large datasets to identify which information should be prioritized with robust safeguards.



The future of privacy engineering is likely to be shaped by ongoing technological advancements and increased awareness of data privacy issues. As more data is collected and processed, the need for effective privacy engineering will only increase. Privacy engineers will need to stay up to date with new technologies and regulations to ensure that user data is protected while still allowing organizations to leverage the value of that data.

If your organization is looking to introduce cutting-edge talent to further your privacy engineering architecture, look no further. Our cybersecurity practice is well-equipped to meet your talent needs. Our network of cyber experts is ready to support your unique ask; reach out here to start a conversation or learn more about our subject-matter expertise!

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