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A look inside Procter & Gamble's privacy protection crusade

Procter & Gamble (P&G) has five billion customers in 130 countries. Making sure their personal information doesn't wind up in the wrong hands falls to Zeke Swift, P&G director of global privacy.

How does P&G's senior leadership view privacy?

Our senior leadership is actively involved in privacy. I report to the chairman of the board, the CIO and the corporate external relations officer. I am also on the Global Public Policy Council, the company's top forum for key external issues. Our focus on privacy broadened in the mid-1990s when we began exploring how the Internet could be used as part of our overall business strategy. We identified uses and, at the same time, the privacy implications of consumers sharing personal information with us over the Web. How would you describe your responsibilities as director of global privacy?

My responsibilities extend to our privacy practices globally, from the development and implementation of our policies to understanding the external environment for privacy and the implications for P&G. From an internal perspective, we wanted to make our efforts congruent and consistent and make sure we didn't have any gaps. From an external perspective, we wanted to have a single leader responsible for understanding the environment and for relationships with external stakeholders.

What is the goal of the company's privacy program?

We treat personal information shared with us as a trust. The reason we collect personal information is to be able to better understand and meet consumer needs. Our objective is to build an environment of knowledge, confidence and trust that encourages people to share information with us. How do you achieve accountability for privacy throughout the organization?

Accountability across the organization starts with the members of our Global Privacy Council who are responsible for key geographic business units and key types of data. These are great people who understand the goals of the privacy program and communicate our goals and responsibilities to employees in their business units. We developed computer-based training to create threshold-level awareness of our privacy practices and privacy resources across P&G. We're also in the process of reviewing the company's employee privacy policy with each employee. What skills are necessary to succeed as a CPO?

There are two skills that I believe are critically important for succeeding as a CPO. The first is the ability to think strategically and understand how privacy relates to the company's business goals and objectives. We want to put in place practices that enable us to better understand and meet consumers' needs...and that leads to increased growth and profit.

Second is the ability to build a network of people that understands what needs to be done and gets it done. We have four full-time people on our privacy team and 30 people on P&G's Global Privacy Council. The Council has members from each of the geographic units, representatives for each key type of personal data, and representatives of key functions involved with privacy. Council members are all appointed by company officers. Do you believe there will be a harmonization of global privacy standards?

Privacy principles -- the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) guidelines, E.U. Safe Harbor principles, FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Fair Information Practices etc. -- are all very similar. What varies from country to country is execution. For example, Europe prefers omnibus legislation while in the U.S. we have a blend of sectoral legislation and self-regulation, as well as enforcement by the FTC and state attorneys general. It will take work, but I'm confident we'll find ways to keep data flowing while still protecting the privacy of individuals.

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