FEATURE20 January 2009

Kantar Group’s new privacy boss spills the beans

Features Privacy

George Pappachen tells Research why he thinks the ‘dialogue is shifting’ on privacy

As policymakers and industry associations continue to grapple with the issue of online privacy, the Kantar Group has appointed George Pappachen as its first chief privacy officer. We asked Pappachen for his outlook on data handling in research.

As far as we're aware you are the first ‘chief privacy officer’ in the research industry. Why was now the time for Kantar to appoint a privacy boss?

There are a couple of reasons for the timing of this. One is that our constant client focus and communications had raised the issue of responsible data management. Also, the issue of privacy comes up in other relationships involving technology and data, and we're open, and always try to react in a responsible way. The idea is to be more proactive with this and bring a consumer perspective into business scenarios, and to the clients a better product.

How well does the public understand the issue of privacy?

I think that consumers are probably not as aware about the intricacies of data handling in different business scenarios, but overall they probably want businesses to have what they consider good standards in using their data. That dialogue and the principle of good data handling doesn't come about unless there’s a high-level remit and effort to manage business data.

How well has the research industry tackled this issue?

I can't say that the industry or individual companies in the past have done all that they could. Among the different priorities that the industry typically faces, I'm not certain that privacy has been a top priority in the past, even from an industry organisation perspective. I think, though, that the dialogue is shifting or has shifted. The necessary underpinnings are there for privacy to be a priority topic.

What signs do you see of the dialogue shifting?

On a policy level I see regulators taking a more active role in exploring scenarios of business data handling and I also see industry groups themselves having more frequent dialogue with regulators about what is appropriate from a consumer perspective and what are the routines from a business execution perspective. As technology better serves its handlers and the public, it’s a natural evolution for there to be more responsible rules.

Do you see potential new regulations as a threat?

I certainly see it as a huge concern, and that’s why Kantar Group has taken this step. We want to offer clients the best kind of insights possible and the evolving marketplace allows for unique business scenarios and technology offerings, but all of that can be curtailed if regulators don't understand well enough what we do, or don't think that we are responsible.

How well do the regulators and policymakers understand the issue?

I don't think the understanding at the regulatory level is where it needs to be in order to construct specific rules to address, for example, behavioural targeting. However, I do think industry and regulators are becoming more well versed in the area. I think there can be principle-based tools in play that advance privacy and consumer concerns, even if they don't cover all possible scenarios.

Do you worry that the public could get whipped up into a panic over privacy fears?

I do think there’s a possibility of that. Bad law is sometimes made because of bad circumstances, and our perspective is that we want to take a proactive role in defining the public agenda. We want to be in a position to offer an accurate assessment of our data handling, so that the rules of the road reflect a more responsible management, rather than decisions being based on unfounded claims.

What is Kantar going to do to improve public perception regarding privacy?

It’s too early to talk in much detail about what we'll be doing, but in addition to being a leader in this space we want to be part of a dialogue, to collaborate. We want to be part of joint initiatives to take these efforts beyond the research industry and the interactive industry, as we manage data in an evolving nature.

Author: Robert Bain

Related links:

Advertisers tackle online privacy with self-regulation initiative

Pappachen becomes first privacy boss at Kantar Group

Privacy legislation ‘could threaten research'