Data Privacy Day: A Q&A with Foursquare’s Global Data Protection Officer

Elizabeth Hein, Associate General Counsel for Privacy, Product & Compliance

Elizabeth Hein

Elizabeth Hein, Associate General Counsel, Global Data Protection Officer, CIPP/E, CIPP/US, CIPM — Check out the Q&A below to learn more about her thoughts on the privacy landscape.

Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide to focus on Privacy?

I started my legal career as a global trade lawyer where I specialized in advising clients on the compliance requirements associated with the international trade in goods and services. After a number of years in private practice, I joined a Fortune 100, multinational company where I advised on global trade and also took on the role of Global Privacy Counsel.

At first glance, my two areas of practice seem like they are on two different ends of the legal spectrum; however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the world has become more digital, businesses naturally have shifted focus from building physical products to data-driven services.

What brought you to Foursquare?

Being a leading location data and technology company in today’s complicated landscape, Foursquare must be best-in-class when it comes to facing all-things privacy. When I joined, I knew that the privacy issues I would face would be challenging. But I firmly believe that if handled in a transparent, compliant and ethical manner, location data can bring value to people’s lives. The fact that Foursquare was already leaning in on privacy with clear direction from our CEO and executive team to further strengthen our privacy stance sealed the deal for me.

Joining Foursquare gave me the opportunity to expand my role from “legal advisor” to “privacy leader” and take on the responsibility of leading our privacy team in evolving our privacy program.

What are the greatest privacy-related challenges or issues that data-driven businesses should be aware of in 2022?

The number one challenge all businesses that deal with consumer data face is earning consumer trust. Consumers have the right to determine when to share their data and to know how that data is being used. At Foursquare, we believe it is our duty to use clear language that not only informs users about their options to share, but also communicates how they will benefit from sharing their data.

But communication alone won’t earn the trust of consumers — you have to back it up with action. Data-driven businesses need to operate with a true privacy-first approach — in the way they design and build their products, in their partnership agreements, in their interactions with consumers, etc. In 2022 and beyond, as technology continues to advance and data volumes proliferate exponentially, being truly privacy-first will become more and more important.

Finally, there are the regulatory challenges. Foursquare has long advocated for more regulation that will mandate transparency and responsible data collection and use. But the regulatory landscape is fast becoming more complicated as more and more states make moves to enact their own privacy-focused legislation. A patchwork approach may not be the most effective way to enforce privacy regulations, as it can create confusion and inconsistencies. As such, we’re continuing to call for federal action.

How is Foursquare prepared to tackle such challenges?

At Foursquare, privacy is not just one team’s responsibility, it is everyone’s responsibility. We are focusing on driving awareness and giving people the tools needed to ensure that privacy is built into our products by default.

We take numerous steps to protect consumer privacy throughout the entire data lifecycle. We are also always trying to increase transparency in how we collect and use data. Recently, we rolled out our new Privacy Center featuring refreshed privacy policies for consumers, developers and enterprise customers as well as simplified instructions for exercising privacy rights.

To stay abreast of the latest developments in privacy, we’ve joined the IAPP which is the world’s largest and most comprehensive privacy resource with a mission to define, support and improve the privacy profession globally. In the digital advertising space, we are members of the DAA and NAI and we have voluntarily implemented their codes of conduct. We are actively engaged in these organizations and support ongoing efforts to increase transparency, consumer understanding and consumer choice in digital advertising.

And of course, we will continue to be advocates for federal regulation that will protect people from unethical, unfair or data opaque practices.

What do you think is the greatest misconception consumers have about data privacy?

I think there are two important misconceptions that businesses like Foursquare need to tackle. First, the misconception held by consumers that data-driven businesses don’t want to protect their privacy. That’s simply not true. The people that make up our organization — our engineers, our product team, our business development and sales teams — care deeply about people’s privacy and I am approached on a daily basis about how to make sure we are protecting personal data. It’s up to us to continue to communicate our commitment to consumers.

Second, businesses often have the mistaken belief that being privacy compliant is enough. Yes, we must take all appropriate measures to be compliant with privacy and data protection laws but there is more that we can and must do. Foursquare has not only deployed rigorous policies and processes across all of our operations, but we are always striving to “do the right thing.”

In five years, what do you think the data privacy landscape will look like?

I anticipate that the privacy landscape will only continue to get more complex as new technologies emerge, more privacy and data protection laws pop up, and regulators increase enforcement efforts. If we continue in our efforts to increase transparency, I am hopeful that consumers will have a better understanding of how their data is collected and used, as well as how to exercise their rights.

Most importantly, every person in a company has a role to play in protecting data and respecting an individual’s privacy rights. At Foursquare, from our CEO and executive team to our interns who join us only for a short time, there is no question that privacy and data protection is a top priority and a shared responsibility. That is why I’m proud to be a part of the Foursquare team.

Have questions about Foursquare’s data practices and policies? Visit our Privacy Center for more information.