About the Chair

The VUB Chair “Data Protection On the Ground” (DPOG) promotes the investigation into actual practices of data privacy in organizations and the dissemination of best practices. The focus of its research is on developments in smart cities, health, media, and banking. For this the Chair compares practices in public sector organizations with those in the private sector, and organizations experienced in personal data protection with beginners. In lectures, workshops, roundtables and other events, the Chair brings experts and practitioners together to stimulate the discussion of best practices.

The Chair is coordinated by the research center imec-SMIT (Studies on Media, Innovation & Technology) in collaboration with the research group LSTS (Law, Science Technology & Society). The Chair will initially run from October 2018 - 2021.

Annual report 2019

Annual report 2020

Partner: BNP Paribas Fortis

The Chair on Data Protection On The Ground was established in partnership with BNP Paribas Fortis.

Website BNP Paribas Fortis

Chair holder: Prof. dr. Jo Pierson

Jo Pierson, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies (Faculty of Social Sciences & Solvay Business School). He has also been a Senior Researcher and Unit Leader at the research centre SMIT (Studies on Media, Innovation and Technology) since 1996. In this position he is in charge of the research unit 'Privacy, Ethics & Literacy’, in cooperation with imec (R&D and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technology). He lectures undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Hasselt University and University of Amsterdam, covering socio-technical issues of digital media design and use. Drawing upon media and communication studies, in combination with science and technology studies, his interdisciplinary research focus is on data, privacy, public values and user empowerment in online platforms. He is also elected member of the International Council of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).

Visit Jo Pierson's personal page.

Chair type



2018 - 2021

Over de leerstoel

De leerstoel “Data Protection On the Ground” (DPOG) bevordert onderzoek naar de daadwerkelijke praktijken van gegevensbescherming in organisaties en de uitwisseling van best practices.

In het bijzonder richt het onderzoek binnen de leerstoel zich op smart cities, gezondheidszorg, media, en de bankensector. In dat kader worden praktijken van organisaties in de publieke sector vergeleken met praktijken in de private sector, en de praktijken van organisaties met veel ervaring in gegevensbescherming met die van organisaties die nog niet zo lang geleden zijn begonnen met de bescherming van persoonsgegevens. In lezingen, workshops, rondetafels en andere activiteiten brengt de leerstoel experts en professionals samen om de discussie over best practices te stimuleren.

De leerstoel wordt geco├Ârdineerd door onderzoekscentrum imec-SMIT (Studies on Media, Innovation & Technology) in samenwerking met de onderzoeksgroep LSTS (Law, Science Technology & Society). De leerstoel loopt van 2018-2021.

Jaarverslag 2019 (pdf)

Partner: BNP Paribas Fortis

De leerstoel Data Protection On The Ground is opgezet in partnerschap met BNP Paribas Fortis.

Website BNP Paribas Fortis


Titularis: Prof. Dr. Jo Pierson

Dr. Jo Pierson is hoofddocent in de vakgroep Communicatiewetenschappen aan de VUB, faculteit Sociale Wetenschappen en Solvay Business School. Hij is eveneens senior onderzoeker en hoofd van de onderzoeksunit Privacy, Ethics, and Literacy binnen het onderzoekscentrum SMIT (Studies on Media, Innovation and Technology), sinds 1996. Daarnaast geeft hij vakken op het gebied van socio-technische aspecten van (het gebruik van) digitale media aan de VUB, de Universiteit Hasselt en de Universiteit van Amsterdam. In zijn onderzoek, dat interdisciplinair is van aard, ligt de nadruk op data, privacy, publieke waarden en user empowerment op online platformen.

Bezoek Jo Piersons medewerkerspagina.




2018 - 2021

Contact person
Ine van Zeeland, PhD researcher


+32 2 629 1 629

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Successful launch of the Chair on Data Protection On The Ground

On Thursday 13 December, the VUB Chair on Data Protection On The Ground kicked off its activities with an engaging half-day event in the center of Brussels. Featuring speakers from business, academia, and regulators, a multi-faceted picture was painted of how data privacy regulations work out in practice.

The audience was welcomed on the morning of 13 December by Jo Coutuer, Chief Data Officer at BNP Paribas Fortis, the partner of the new Chair. He explained that the banking industry had been in the business of protecting their clients’ data for over 500 years and that they saw a clear value in studying the effectiveness of different data protection practices in the age of digital disruption.

Protecting freedom
The president of the Belgian Data Protection Authority, Willem Debeuckelaere, then delivered the opening speech, inviting the audience to interact. Soon the questions started flowing: about the number of data breaches and complaints in Belgium, about the relative competences of European regulators, and about innovation in times of strict legislation. Debeuckelaere reiterated that it was never the intention of the recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to hinder innovation; instead, the GDPR invites discussion “to find solutions to risks”.

Willem Debeuckelaere in discussion with the audience.

Prof. Caroline Pauwels, rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

The potential to benefit from challenges was picked up later in the morning by VUB rector Prof. Caroline Pauwels, who pointed out that “a whole cottage industry has come to life around data protection, selling privacy management software, cybersecurity insurance, and data protection consulting services”. She also underlined why the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, with its focus on freedom, is a suitable place to establish a research chair on data protection: in discussing privacy, “we are ultimately talking about protecting people’s freedom”.

Examples from practice
The new chair holder, Prof. Jo Pierson, explained the rationale behind focusing on practices rather than theory. “The challenges are sector-specific, and vary from different ideas of what constitutes ‘informed consent’ to sharing public data about citizens with commercial partners.” The sector-specific nature of data protection challenges was confirmed in a subsequent panel discussion between respresentatives of the four sectors the chair will focus on (banking, media, health and smart cities): Jo Coutuer, Allan Segebarth (CEO, AdLogix), Luc Maes (Data Protection Officer, UZ Brussel), and Jan Adriaenssens (Director, City of Things). As an example, Adriaenssens related how in the ‘City of Things’ programme in Antwerp, a project was proposed to use security camera images to study safety issues at pedestrian crossings. Ensuring proper privacy protection in this situation turned out to be a complicated process with a long chain of partners who needed to be involved, from the city administration to the owners of the cameras.

Chair holder Prof. Jo Pierson explains the aim of the chair's research.

Jo Coutuer (BNP Paribas Fortis) talks about the data protection challenges in the banking sector.

Asked by the moderator, prof. Paul De Hert, to give examples from the medical, media and banking industry, the panel further talked about the challenges for the protection of health data of diabetics who use wearables to monitor their condition, the disadvantage of the Belgian advertising industry in the face of Google and Facebook who have become advertising giants by collecting vast amounts of people’s data, and governments demanding from banks that they supply financial information about clients.

Jan Adriaenssens (City of Things) talks about data protection in the smart city of Antwerp.


Discussion among professionals
The last speaker of the morning was Prof. Georges Ataya, the academic director of executive education at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, and co-founder of the DPO Circle, a professional organisation for data protection officers (DPOs). DPOs are often the project owners for privacy protection, and Prof. Ataya explained the different types of skills they will need to fulfil the requirements for his job: they need to know about the law, but also about management and transformation processes, as well as IT security and management of urgent situations in case of a data breach. The DPO Circle aims to facilitate discussion among these new professionals and organises regular talks about specific data protection issues, in collaboration with the new Chair.

Prof. Georges Ataya (Solvay Business School) explains the skills needed by data protection officers.

VUB rector Caroline Pauwels and Jo Coutuer (BNP Paribas Fortis) confirm the partnership in the Chair on Data Protection On The Ground.