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Where the chief privacy officer fits into the CDO revolution | #MITIQ

loss of privacy erasedThe growing importance of information in decision-making is pushing priorities such as accuracy and compliance higher up the corporate agenda, to the point that a growing number of organizations are now are appointing dedicated leaders charged with shouldering those new responsibilities. And as it turns out, that role doesn’t necessarily correspond to the chief data officer, or CDO for short, the emerging position that dominates the governance discussion today.

At Acxiom Corp., the task of regulating how information is accessed and used within the company falls under the domain of the chief privacy officer, a title currently held by Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, who appeared on theCUBE at the recently concluded MIT CDOIQ Symposium to provide a rare glimpse into her world.

The Arizona-based Acxiom helps organizations across different industries harness data to target and interact with their audiences more effectively, primarily in an advertising context but not exclusively. The company boasts a much longer history than most of the competition, having been around since the late 1960s, and operates two primary businesses: a set of hosting services aimed at elevating the growing information management burden for clients, and a set complementary of cloud solutions that offer insight into customer behavior.

Knowledge is power

 

At the heart of the portfolio is a massive repository that stores trillions of data points about hundreds of millions of consumers around the world.  The thought of a single company knowing that much about so many people has raised concerns among some advocacy groups and lawmakers, but Barrett Glasgow told hosts Jeff Kelly and Paul Gillin that the information contained in the database is not the kind snooping scandals are made of. Instead, it contains details about demographics and interests that marketers can use  to serve up more personalized content for consumers.

Yet despite the seemingly harmless nature of the information it collects, Barrett Glasgow said that Acxiom takes active measure to protect against misuse. That kind of self-regulation has become a necessity in the era of unstructured data.   “The gap between what we can technically to and what customers feel is appropriate or not is growing,” she explained. “Technology is fast outpacing law and even industry best practices, so companies have to ask themselves what would the consumer think about, how would they react to the risks created by certain use of data.”

A new paradigm for analytics

 

There’s a very good reason to why Acxiom is being so careful in how it handles consumer information. Even if a data point is not particularly sensitive on its own, it still has the potential to compromise user privacy when combined with other metrics, as was demonstrated clearly by the infamous Target Corp. incident of  2012. Barrett Glasgow noted that the industry is  actively taking the initiative on establishing governance  processes for the explicit purpose of avoiding that kind of scenario.

“I think we’ve got a window of a year or two where companies are gonna take on concerns themselves and deal with them because market push-back can be worse than governance push-back,” she explained. ”Consumers are more aware about these kinds of things than they ever been before.”

That increased awareness is forcing data-dependant companies such as Acxiom to not only provide transparency into how and what data they collect but also give consumers the choice to opt out of their services, an option that the firm has been offering for quite some time now. But the question of how much choice to provide and when is still very much up to debate.

“The rules may be slightly different if we’re talking about say marketing versus fraud detection,” Barrett Glasgow detailed. “As a society, we’ve decided that the use of data to prevent fraud is a valuable thing so we don’t give consumers any choice any more than we give them a choice to opt out of that late payment. But when we’re talking about marketing, historically we have said consumers should have some say.” The challenge is to address the fast-evolving demands of those individuals who are willing to sacrifice some of their privacy in favor of functionality while still accommodating the portion of consumers who prefer not to share certain – or any – data with the world.

photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

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