IBM Corp. today 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 now assume the chief privacy officer position. In her 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 U.S. Federal Trade Commission is pushing for privacy regulations after a survey of 355 Web sites earlier this year showed that only 20 percent offered essential privacy protection.
As a result of the increased focus, companies are appointing chief privacy officers and giving them responsibility for establishing 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 officials couldn't be immediately be reached for additional comment on Pearson's appointment. But in its announcement, IBM said Pearson will focus on unifying the company's ongoing privacy projects and programs on a global basis. Pearson, 37, also is charged with ensuring that IBM adheres to evolving consumer privacy guidelines and follows all applicable privacy laws and standards.
"We know that one of the great conundrums of e-business is that it gives enterprises a powerful new capability to capture and analyze massive amounts of information so they can serve individual customers more effectively," said Louis V. Gerstner Jr., IBM's chairman and CEO, in a statement. "Yet this very capability troubles some people, who see it as a means to disclose or exploit their personal information. These are legitimate and very real concerns, and they must be addressed if the world of e-business is to reach its full potential."
Gerstner added that privacy "is a policy issue" more than a technology one -- a point that Shen seconded. Companies "should think of privacy issues holistically, looking at [both] internal and external practices," Shen said.
In addition to her job at IBM, Pearson currently 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 also is a member of the executive committee of the CEO-level Privacy Leadership Initiative.