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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Paola Zeni

Paola Zeni

Paola Zeni

Senior Director of Global Privacy, Palo Alto Networks

Paola Zeni (LLM ’09), senior director of global privacy for Palo Alto Networks, says she moved into the privacy profession at a time when the technology was advancing rapidly.  “I realized that the toolbox managers had available mostly came from compliance, and that it was not really adequate to face the challenges, nuances, or complexity of the problems that are posed by the evolution of technology and the way people relate to and trust technology,” she remembers.

What was missing? Ethics, Zeni says.  “If you’re not able to talk in terms of values, you won’t be able to appeal to people’s judgment,” she explains.  “Judgment is important because privacy concerns are very contextual.  You can’t provide people with a cheat sheet that will give them all the answers.  So ethics in my mind is the way to do it—looking at the impact on stakeholders and thinking about consequences.”

This approach was what drew Zeni to become involved in the Center’s Internet Ethics Advisory Group.  “The Center has a role in making sure that there is awareness about privacy, both in society generally and in the tech sector,” she says.  “A lot of products are put out into the world without sufficient thought.  The Center can raise the level of awareness.”

Zeni also appreciates the group’s wide-ranging consideration of many issues as it provides counsel to the Internet Ethics Program.  “As a practitioner mired in the daily concerns and mechanics of a privacy program, I find the broader perspective helps me,” she says.  “It’s very much a two-way road.” 

Originally from Italy, Zeni did her LLM at SCU.  In the States, she worked for Agilent and Symantec before joining Palo Alto Networks.  As she surveys the privacy landscape, she observes, “Companies are not very deliberate when it comes to data.  Business models are usually built ex post facto:  Get the data; decide what to do with it later. The information gets amassed, and then it gets squeezed for intelligence and information.”

But this approach is fraught with problems.  “As companies use the data for predictive decision making, they don’t always see that they are starting from a place where the data may have been collected in a haphazard way.” Zeni says.  “Then, when it’s used to impact people’s destiny, it can bring in a lack of accuracy.”

To Zeni, data governance is still the biggest issue in the privacy realm.  “We need principles about retention and proportionality.  We need to collect only the data we need, keep it only as long as we need it, and use it only for what we collected it for.”