By Salvador Rodriguez
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - They may not have the cachet of entrepreneurs, or geek chic of developers, but data protection officers are suddenly the hottest properties in technology.
When Jen Brown got her first certification for information privacy in 2006, few companies were looking for people qualified to manage the legal and ethical issues related to handling customer data.
But now it's 2018, companies across the globe are scrambling to comply with a European law that represents the biggest shake-up of personal data privacy rules since the birth of the internet - and Brown's inbox is being besieged by recruiters.
"I got into security before anyone cared about it, and I had a hard time finding a job," said the 46-year-old, who is the data protection officer (DPO) of analytics start-up Sumo Logic in Redwood City near San Francisco.
"Suddenly, people are sitting up and taking notice."
Brown is among a hitherto rare breed of workers who are becoming sought-after commodities in the global tech industry ahead of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect in May.
The law is intended to give European citizens more control over their online information and applies to all firms that do business with Europeans. It requires that all companies whose core activities include substantial monitoring or processing of personal data hire a DPO.
And finding DPOs is not easy.
More than 28,000 will be needed in Europe and U.S. and as many as 75,000 around the globe as a result of GDPR, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) estimates. The organization said it did not previously track DPO figures because, prior to GDPR, Germany and the Philippines were the only countries it was aware of with mandatory DPO laws.
DPO job listings in Britain on the Indeed job search site have increased by more than 700 percent over the past 18 months, from 12.7 listings per every 1 million in April 2016 to 102.7 listings per 1 million in December.
The need for DPOs is expected to be particularly high in any data-rich industries, such as tech, digital marketing, finance, healthcare and retail. Uber, Twitter , Airbnb, Cloudflare and Experian are advertising for a DPO, online job advertisements show. Microsoft , Facebook , Salesforce.com and Slack are also currently working to fill the position, the companies told Reuters.
'EVERYONE IS LOOKING'
"I would say that I get between eight and 10 calls a week about a role (from recruiters)," said Marc French, DPO of Massachusetts email management company Mimecast. "Come Jan. 1 the phone calls increased exponentially because everybody realized, 'Oh my god, GDPR is only five months away.'"
GDPR requires that DPOs assist their companies on data audits for compliance with privacy laws, train employees on data privacy and serve as the point of contact for European regulators. Other provisions of the law require that companies make personal information available to customers on request, or delete it entirely in some cases, and report any data breaches within 72 hours.
"Given that we're trying to march to the deadline, I would say that 65 percent of my time is focused on GDPR right now," said French, who is also a senior vice president of Mimecast.
The demand for DPOs has sparked renewed interest in data privacy training, said Sam Pfeifle, content director of the IAPP, which introduced a GDPR Ready program last year for aspiring DPOs.
"We already sold out all of our GDPR training through the first six months of 2018," said Pfeifle, adding that the IAPP saw a surge in new memberships in 2017, from 24,000 to 36,000.
Those companies who have DPOs, meanwhile, are braced for poaching.
Many of those firms reside in Germany, which has long required that most companies that process data designate DPOs. They include Simplaex, a Berlin ad-targeting startup.
"Everyone is looking for a DPO," said Simplaex CEO Jeffry van Ede. "I need to have some cash ready for when someone tries to take mine so I can keep him."
(GRAPHIC: Booming demand for data protection officers - http://tmsnrt.rs/2Bs7SEM )
(Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Pravin Char)