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Source: USA Today

Posted on December 4, 2000

      Add another seat around the conference table: Chief Privacy Officers are joining the executive ranks at major technology companies across the USA. IBM appointed its first CPO on Wednesday, becoming the latest company to create the high-profile position. No one had heard of a "chief privacy officer" as recently as two years ago. Now there are about 75 in the USA, according to James Grady, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

      The number is expected to grow as large corporations follow the lead of the small Internet companies that started the CPO trend. "Companies are finally realizing that privacy will not arise by accident," says Jason Catlett, an online privacy advocate.

      A CPO's duties vary from company to company, but usually include making sure a firm's practices comply with government privacy regulations and creating a secure environment to attract and retain customers.

      "Internally I kick a lot of butt to make sure people are focused on thinking what's best for the consumer," says Richard Purcell, Microsoft's director of corporate privacy. Privacy concerns existed long before the Internet, but the ease of information exchange on the Web has brought them to the forefront. For example, one-third of Americans still say that concerns about their privacy prevent them from shopping online, according to a study by Fiderus, a consulting firm.

      The first companies to sign CPOs were Internet-based and handled large amounts of personal information. All Advantage, a company that pays people to surf the Internet while they look at ads, is widely credited with creating the title in August 1999 when it hired Ray Everett-Church. "It's very counterintuitive to think of ways of limiting - or what some people see as limiting - business opportunities," Everett-Church says.

      The CPO title became better known in March 2000 when online advertising firm DoubleClick, which has had its privacy practices questioned, hired Jules Polonetsky. Since then, companies such as AT&T and Excite@Home have hired CPOs.

      "This IBM announcement will be influential," Giga's Grady says. "It will push companies that are considering (appointing a CPO) forward."

      Since the position is so new, companies are still determining what qualifies a person to be CPO. Harriet Pearson, who will be taking the position at IBM, has a background that includes public policy and engineering. Other CPOs have experience in law, marketing or public relations.

      But just because a company doesn't have a CPO doesn't mean that it doesn't take privacy seriously. Many have committees or people with similar titles that are responsible for privacy issues. The importance of a CPO, analysts say, is that it's someone to hold accountable.

      "It's something I expect to see most major businesses have to do in the next two or three years," says Gary Clayton, CEO of the Privacy Council, a consulting firm.

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