The quest to capture, store and analyze massive amounts of consumer information offers tremendous opportunities to serve consumers and grow profits, but cavalier or inappropriate uses of the data could jeopardize the very future of a business, a leading expert on privacy and information practices said.

"We live in a time of growing concern about how information about consumers is collected, used and protected," Acxiom Corporation Chief Privacy Officer Jennifer Barrett said. "Failure to confront that reality will put your brand and profits at risk."

The privacy expert said failure to follow good data management practices has not only hurt the reputation of many businesses, it has sparked consumers' fears and prompted calls for more regulation.

Barrett cautioned executives against being one of the "few very aggressive companies" that have given consumers reason to fear how their information is being used - citing the recent sale of General Wesley Clark's cell phone records over the Internet as one example.

One of the first executives in the nation with the role of "chief privacy officer," Barrett said companies that seek to be good stewards of data, while also benefiting from its potential to achieve greater business results, should follow a number of practices, including:

  • Fully understand the data that is collected and maintained and how data elements are used "from the consumer's perspective."
  • Protect any sensitive data - and make that that the jobs of all employees, not just the security officer.
  • Be candid with consumers, and live up to the promises you make. 
  • Screen your partners - particularly data and service providers - and other vendors more carefully than ever.
  • Act aggressively to remedy and speak with candor if you have a potentially damaging event regarding data privacy or security.

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