Karima, why should people care about privacy?
Most individuals don’t understand what’s happening to their data. But if you think about it, nothing that you do is private. How you sleep, how much you sleep, whether you smoke, what you drink, how much you run … it’s just extraordinary that we have no privacy at all. Many companies are being careless with that data, but there are some who take the responsibility seriously. And people are starting to realise they do have a choice about who they share their data with. A change is definitely coming.
Why work in privacy?
I’ve always been interested in privacy but back in the early 2000s, no one was talking about it. Ten years later, when I left Google to set up my consultancy, there was a lot of data being processed by organisations and privacy had become a huge challenge. A lot of very smart people were building really cool stuff but weren’t giving privacy much thought. That’s still true today.
What was it like working at Google?
There were 50 of us working in an office in Soho. There was little hierarchy and the ethos was let’s work together and get stuff done. There were bean bags, lava lamps, free food, and ski trips. Nigel and I and the few people we hired were handling everything that sounded remotely legal, which was lovely. When I left, I remember people saying to me, ‘Are you mad? It’s Google!’ But I just felt like it was time to do something else. You have one life and you have to be brave.
What led you to co-found the Hub with Nigel?
When I left Google, I founded my consultancy K Legal (that became the Legal Pod, which I started with Nigel). We were seasoned lawyers who helped startups and scaleups set up the legal function of the business properly. What became clear was business leaders always saw privacy as a legal issue, even though we didn’t make any decisions about their data and we didn’t even sit in their offices. With the Hub, we wanted to make privacy relevant to the people within the organisation and bring them together to discuss what personal information they were using and why. We wanted to help people protect personal information for real.
What mistakes do you see organisations making?
You’ve got to start with that human conversation before you introduce technology. A lot of people want a silver bullet, but machines aren’t going to fix this for us. For me, it has to start at the executive level. The leadership team needs to make it clear that they care about privacy and drive that cultural change from the top down, continuously. You then need to spread the responsibility and the risks across your entire organisation. Privacy is not the responsibility of lawyers. It’s the collective responsibility of the entire organisation. Young people are really interested in this. They want to work for ethical companies that protect data.
Are there any quick wins that are overlooked?
This isn’t a one person job. So whoever holds responsibility for privacy needs to look for privacy champions within the organisation. Companies are all filled with intelligent, driven people who want to make a difference. Find them, make them your allies, and bring them to the table to help you. You also need a tool to provide a structured approach. Most of the people we speak to might understand the importance of privacy, but don’t know what they need to do about it.
How about outside of work – are you a keen gardener too?
Definitely not, although I do love flowers. I like people; I’m definitely an extrovert. During lockdown, I’ve missed my friends, going to the theatre, the arts, eating out, travelling. I love fashion and the way we express ourselves through clothes. I hope we all come out in our ball gowns when this is all over. And of course, my three children keep me very busy!
You sound quite different to Nigel! How do you find working together?
We are, quite literally, opposites. We don’t come from the same place, we don’t go on holiday to the same places, we don’t like the same music or the same food. He probably finds everything I do really embarrassing. But that diversity makes us really strong. And I have a huge amount of respect for his brain power, discipline and diligence. He just keeps on going.
What’s the best thing about being a business owner?
In the corporate world when you work for someone else, especially if it’s a company like Google where there are a thousand people ready to take your job, you’re completely replaceable. When it’s your business, nobody can ever take it away from you. It’s incredibly rewarding. Whatever you put in, you get back. You need a lot of conviction to run your own business but you’ve had the guts to do something amazing. I really like that.
What are your hopes for the future?
I would really like to see a shift, whereby people realise that you can’t tackle privacy alone. This is a global problem and we all have a collective responsibility to tackle this issue. It affects every single one of us. And what would be amazing is if privacy is given a place at the top table, so that there’s space for this conversation to happen. That whatever is built, the question is asked – what does that mean for privacy? That would be amazing.
If you’d like to learn more about the Privacy Compliance Hub, or want to chat ball gowns with Karima, drop her an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.