In our continuing series to celebrate the IAPP’s 10-year anniversary, this month we look back at the early days of the privacy profession with Jennifer Barrett. Widely considered the first person to hold the title of chief privacy officer, Jennifer has been heading up privacy efforts at Arkansas-based databroker Acxiom Corp for almost 20 years. Jennifer joined Acxiom in 1974 after receiving a degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Texas at Austin, and prior to her position as CPO worked in almost every facet of the company. The Privacy Advisor asked her a few questions about her work, and how it has evolved through the years.

What were some of the things you were concerned with during that first year as CPO?

In 1991 when I first took on the role of CPO there was no general privacy related legislation domestically or in the UK which at that time was our only international operation. There were emerging concerns about telemarketing and a few state do-not-call registries, the first one having been enacted in Florida in 1986. My CPO responsibilities only took up about 25 percent of my total time and were focused on improving the DMA self-regulatory guidelines for telemarketing and direct mail. Credit issuers were a large segment of our client base, so we also complied with the FCRA guidelines relative to pre-approved offers of credit. All in all, a pretty simple world compared to today.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since the beginning of your career in privacy?

My entire career has been managing through one big change after another. This includes an explosion of laws, regulations, and industry codes of conduct coupled with some extraordinary corporate growth at Acxiom. When I took on the role of CPO we were only doing business in three countries—the U.S., Canada and the UK. Now we offer some services that are worldwide and have offices in 14 countries. In the beginning we only offered marketing-related products and services. Now we have a whole line of risk and identity management products and services for clients in industries ranging from financial, insurance, telecommunications, technology, retail, catalog, publishing, travel and entertainment to government. Revenues have grown tenfold in the last 19 years and I’ve had almost that many bosses. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had (and, I think, any other CPO with global responsibility has) is keeping up with the evolution of all the various laws and best practices that we choose to follow in all the geographies where we do business. Add to that the evolution of data-centric technologies that collect and use data for either marketing, or risk-management purposes, and my middle name should probably be change.


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