Peter Cullen, Microsoft’s Chief Privacy Strategist, here ...

Peter Cullen, Chief Privacy StrategistFor more than a decade, Microsoft has had employees dedicated to advancing customer privacy priorities across the company, the industry and society.  We now have more than 40 full-time privacy professionals across the company, as well as a few hundred more with privacy management as a formal part of their job responsibilities.  I thought it is about time you heard directly from them (and me), and have the opportunity to engage in discussion with us on this increasingly important topic.  In this blog, you can expect us to provide perspective on topical privacy issues, as well as information on particular aspects of Microsoft’s unique approach to addressing customer privacy.

Im-per-a-tive [noun].   Something that demands attention or action; an unavoidable obligation or requirement; necessity.  

You may have noted the title of this blog uses the word ‘imperative’.  Is privacy really an imperative?  Yes, and here’s why:

Information technology has dramatically transformed how a large segment of the world’s population works, communicates, learns, shops and plays. Meanwhile, the Internet and increasingly powerful wireless and broadband technologies are carrying the benefits of the Web to virtually every corner of the world, helping to create new opportunities for millions of people and businesses in the global economy.

Yet, as advances in technology simplify and accelerate the flow of information, concerns about the collection and use of personal data, widely publicized security and data breaches, and growing alarm about online fraud and identity theft, threaten to erode public confidence in the computing ecosystem and digital commerce.

Global trends indicate a steady increase in crimes like identity theft and online phishing scams aimed at deceiving individuals into divulging their personal information.  Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report for the second half of 2006 shows that certain classes of spyware are evolving into more targeted and dangerous threats to privacy. For example, detections of remote control and monitoring software by Windows Defender, Microsoft’s anti-spyware client, were up 277 percent and 135 percent respectively between the first and second half of 2006. This type of software is used to commit data theft or to control large numbers of computer systems.

At the same time, studies worldwide show a decline in confidence that information shared online will remain both secure and private. In light of these developments, as well as an increasingly rigorous regulatory environment and the growing volume of personal information being collected by businesses and government, private and public sector organizations are beginning to understand that managing and helping protect people’s confidential data must be a top priority.  For  organizations , failing to prioritize privacy can prompt heavy financial losses, damage to reputations and loss of consumer and citizen trust.

Helping ensure privacy in today’s digital era is critical to the full realization of the social and economic benefits of technology and the Internet – simply put, it’s an imperative. 

In the coming weeks and months you will hear from a range of Microsoft’s privacy professionals, and the occasional guest, on important matters relating to privacy. We look forward to your readership and participation. If you’d like to find out more about Microsoft’s privacy practices, solutions and engagement, I encourage you to visit our Web site and download our latest whitepaper, ‘The Data Privacy Imperative’.