When Anna Zeiter, CIPP/E, CIPM, started her law career 12 years ago, she knew three things for certain.
“I never wanted to work in privacy, I never wanted to work in-house and I never wanted to work in Switzerland,” she said, adding, “You have plans and life has other plans.”
Zeiter has a Ph.D. in free speech and, after graduating wanted a career in media law, started out on that path as an associate with DLA Piper in Hamburg, Germany. There was a privacy component to the role, which accounted for about 5% of her work. Then “privacy really evolved in Europe and across the globe,” she said, and “suddenly this 5% privacy portion of my job became bigger and bigger and bigger.” She transitioned to the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright and within a few years, privacy was taking up 95% of her work.
Zeiter is now the associate general counsel and chief privacy officer at global e-commerce corporation eBay, she lives in Switzerland and couldn’t be happier.
“Go with the flow, go with the good opportunities and don’t limit yourself with ‘this is the plan.’ Be open, and if you’re open and pursue new opportunities, life opens several interesting doors for you,” she said.
Entering the privacy realm early on, Zeiter felt she was in the right place at the right time. She enjoyed being “one of the first movers” in the “privacy boom,” and in 2013 when she decided to apply to a Master of Laws Program, she focused “laser sharp on privacy.” It was around the time of the Snowden revelations and the rise of the future EU General Data Protection Regulation and, she said, “it was the right topic, at the right time, at the right place.”
She was accepted at all schools she applied to, choosing Stanford Law School at Stanford University where the LL.M. Program led her to a panel discussion with senior leadership at eBay. It was the beginning of 2014 and Zeiter asked one question: Was eBay already preparing for GDPR, which at that time was four years from coming into force.
The company said they were looking for a data protection officer based in Europe, preferably a German lawyer given eBay’s strong user base in Germany, with some additional U.S. law knowledge, and approximately five years of professional experience. They asked Zeiter if she’d like to apply.
She joined eBay for two months in the U.S., then transitioned to Switzerland, where the company’s international headquarters are located. She led the European privacy team for four years and then took over eBay’s global chief privacy office in 2018. When she started in Switzerland, Zeiter said she was “more or less a one-man show.” Now she has a team of almost 25 peers.
As a global privacy leader, with privacy laws “popping up around the globe almost on a weekly basis,” Zeiter said it’s undoubtedly “a tough job.” But, she thrives in the global scope of the work. She prioritizes keeping up to date with the “very quickly evolving global landscape,” engages with regulators around the globe to understand their focuses, and works closely with the team at eBay to define priorities and keep leaders, and other teams within the company like marketing, advertising or technology, “up to speed.”
“I love it. I love to have this global scope,” Zeiter said. “We always need to think two or three steps ahead. I love to observe global developments from a regulatory perspective, from a lawmaking perspective, and also from a business perspective. What are our peers doing? How is the market developing? And then I like to bring this information back to the team and make it operational.”
Zeiter has sought to foster a diverse team to lead eBay’s global privacy work, with employees with different language skills and experiences, from different cultures, and different jurisdictions. Working with regulators around the world, and people from diverse cultural backgrounds, Zeiter said it’s essential to have people “on the ground,” who understand an area’s culture, the language, and the legal system.
“This is a global team and privacy is a global matter,” she said. “When you look at advertising technology, for example, you need people who understand technology. When it comes to data breaches, you need people who understand information security. So, it’s always good to have a diverse team with different professional backgrounds. In this diverse field of privacy, when you have to manage so many different stakeholders, it’s important to have a good team, a good troop together, with high communication skills, that can tackle all these challenges.”
Zeiter also teaches at several universities, including the University of Bern, the University of St. Gallen, and University of Göttingen and is co-leading the World Economic Forum's workstream on the valuation of data. Her passions outside of eBay help to benefit her work. Teaching, she said, gives her an opportunity to connect with future privacy leaders, has potential recruiting benefits, and with “no harder audience than students,” sharpens her own skills in presenting to company leaders.
Since she joined eBay seven years ago, Zeiter said privacy has become a board-level topic. And not just at eBay, but companies around the world.
“Right now, privacy is a strategic topic and the CEO and the board are interested in it. I think that’s thanks to GDPR, to the California Consumer Privacy Act and all the other laws, the board is interested in privacy, and it makes it so much fun to work in that. This topic has the attention of the board and is top of mind for the CEO and the senior leadership team,” she said. “Right time, right place.”
Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash
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