IBM Follows Chief Privacy Officer Trend

By Linda Rosencrance, Computer World |  Business

IBM last week named a chief privacy officer, joining the increasing number of companies that are appointing executives to oversee their data privacy policies and initiatives.

Harriet Pearson, who has worked at IBM in jobs related to public policy since 1993, will take on the new role. Pearson will guide the company's privacy policies and practices and also "lead initiatives across IBM that will strengthen consumer privacy protection," the company said.

IBM's announcement comes at a time when data privacy issues are being closely scrutinized by consumer advocates and government officials. For example, the Federal Trade Commission is pushing for privacy regulations after a survey earlier this year of 355 Web sites showed that only 20% offered privacy protections.

As a result of the increased focus, companies are appointing chief privacy officers to establish corporate data-privacy policies. There may be fewer than 75 chief privacy officers in place now, but that number is expected to increase rapidly.

"This is definitely a growing trend," said Andrew Shen, a policy analyst at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "More and more companies . . . are thinking seriously about hiring CPOs to look at the privacy implications of business and technology."

IBM said Pearson will focus on unifying its ongoing privacy programs worldwide. Pearson, 37, is also charged with ensuring that IBM adheres to evolving consumer privacy guidelines and follows all applicable laws and standards.

IBM CEO Louis V. Gerstner said in a statement that privacy isn't so much a technology issue as it "is a policy issue."

Companies "should think of privacy issues holistically, looking at [both] internal and external practices," said Shen.

In addition to her job at IBM, Pearson chairs the Privacy Committee of the Information Technology Industry Council and serves on the board of the Internet Education Foundation and on the BBBOnline Privacy Seal Program's steering committee. She's also a member of the executive committee of the CEO-level Privacy Leadership Initiative.

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