Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How can product managers show leadership on privacy issues?

By Mark Helfen

Privacy is becoming more critical, both to consumers and to businesses. While the underlying security technology may be complex, you don't need to be an expert to exercise leadership and help assure that your products meet market expectations.

At next Monday's (July 12) combined SDForum Marketing and Security SIG meetings, Phillip Burton will speak on the topic "What Every Product Manager Needs to Know About Security."

Burton is Principal Consultant and Trainer at the 280 Group, who bill themselves as "Product Marketing and Product Management Experts." Burton has been with them for four years, and has a 25-year career in product management and product marketing focused on information security, data communications and networking.

When I spoke to Burton this week, he said, "There are an alarming set of privacy issues" showing up with social media and Web 2.0, but some companies don't seem to care.

While raising alarms, he insists that "I'm not being alarmist."

"A single incident can damage your brand," said Burton. While he thinks that large companies are more likely to have their act together, recent incidents involving Facebook and Google Buzz show even they can get bitten by privacy problems, gaining bad P.R. in the process. For small businesses, a privacy breach can cause permanent damage.

The privacy issues will soon enter a whole new realm, with the "internet of things." Devices in your home, possibly something as critical as your home security system, or your maybe just your refrigerator - also critical if you like to eat - will be connected to the broader internet, allowing both the snooping of privacy violations (is anyone at home tonight?) or hacking (turning off your alarm system). Computers that manage or run medical diagnostics or tests are also an example of things becoming internet connected, with privacy and security risks that never existed before.

Smart phones are another example, where hacking incidents have already occurred. Burton told the story of Android applications that spoofed being legitimate banking applications, stealing account information.

"As a product manager, you are responsible to identify market opportunities, and provide leadership on product directions," often by generating marketing requirements in some form. But according to Burton, privacy and security are sometimes left out, either because product managers don't understand the issues, don't care, or feel they are so obvious they don't need to be mentioned.

While privacy issues are a moving target, "consumer perceptions are changing," and can't be ignored.

So how can a product manager respond?

"You don't need to understand the technology to raise issues and exert leadership," in privacy requirements for your product. Burton will list the key issues that a product manger needs to point out to be sure that privacy issues are addressed in the definition of the product. 

So come by Monday, and you can provide privacy leadership for the products your manage.


Mark Helfen is a freelance writer, journalist, and marketing consultant. He can be reached at:

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