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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Businesses forced to comply with a patchwork of state and global privacy rules have turned what was once a cottage industry focused on data and privacy into a multi-billion-dollar sector.

Why it matters: As COVID-19 pushed consumers online in droves, companies — from Fortune 500 firms to the corner coffee shop — had to grapple with how to legally handle personal data. The privacy-tech companies who know how to do it have been raking in the cash.

"Data is on its way to becoming a fairly regulated business, even though we don't have a national law yet," said Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum. "If you're a restaurant or even a school — and all of a sudden you're covered by one of these laws — you now have to assess and document that you're in compliance."

By the numbers: Consumers are more connected than ever, causing data flows to a wide variety of companies to grow exponentially.

  • The average American household now has 25 connected devices, ranging from laptops, smartphones and smart TVs to gaming consoles, smart home devices and connected fitness machines, according to a Deloitte connectivity survey out today.
  • 66% of households have smart home devices, per Deloitte.
  • 70% of those who began shopping on their smartphones thanks to the pandemic plan to continue.

What's happening: The companies that help other companies process, maintain, and legally maximize use of consumer data are in high demand, and collectively need to mature, according to a Future of Privacy Forum report shared first with Axios.

  • Some of the largest players — such as BigID and OneTrust — have multi-billion-dollar market caps on their own.
  • Venture capital investment remains high: According to TechCrunch, about 207 privacy startups have together raised more than $3.5 billion in funding.
  • Private equity firms are buying up smaller niche firms to provide suites of services to compete with the biggest companies.

These companies are increasingly becoming "platforms for risk management," per Polonetsky.

  • The legal and reputational risks posed by data leaks and inappropriate uses of data are so great that they've become a board-level issue. And purchasing power has moved up the corporate ladder to chief technology officers and chief marketing officers — who control the biggest budgets.

What's next: By July 1, for the first time, under provisions of California's privacy law, companies buying or selling personal information of more than 10 million or more consumers have to be prepared to publish detailed records of consumer requests received the previous year.

What to watch: Privacy tech firms will likely merge or form joint ventures to provide the broadest set of services to big companies as regulations become more complex, according Tim Sparapani, lead author of the FPF report.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Scoop: Biden to tap privacy hawk for FTC post

Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

President Biden will nominate Georgetown University law professor Alvaro Bedoya to be a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, people familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: Bedoya, founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown, will bring a bevy of experience on privacy issues to the FTC's work on tech.

14 mins ago - World

Blinken to visit Ukraine as Russia invasion threat looms

Blinken (R) with President Zelensky. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/Pool via Getty

Secretary of State Antony Tony Blinken will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday as the country faces an ongoing threat of Russian invasion.

Driving the news: Blinken will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, as well as officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv to discuss contingency planning. He'll then travel to Berlin to meet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and attend a meeting of the "Transatlantic Quad" — France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S.

Updated 20 mins ago - World

At least 3 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least three people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Tuesday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. Officials in Tonga confirmed three deaths in the country's first official statement since the crisis began.