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AI for Privacy: Jennifer Harkins Garone Paves a Better Path for Carnival

Hannah Baxter

In a world where personal data finds its way into just about every system, everywhere, privacy officers like Carnival’s Jennifer Harkins Garone are paving the way to protect sensitive information and enable their organizations to extract more value from the data they’ve been entrusted with. AI is key to getting it right.

As a senior director of privacy and information governance, can you talk a little bit about your day to day?

Oh, it all depends. Most of the day consists of giving advice and guidance to my colleagues on different ways they can process personal data. That that's the primary thing. And then figuring out maturing the program that I have run for the last three years, while also managing data breaches and inquiries and stuff like that. That's one thing I really like about what I’ve done for a living for the last 16 years: privacy is always different. It is never the same thing on any given day.

It could be rolling out the latest phishing simulation or responding to a guest query about a breach letter they received with my name on it, or doing a contract review, or doing a DPIA, or settling up our intergroup agreements. I love that—that variety and the stimulation that comes with having to constantly engage the muscle of figuring out the right answer to better enable the business.

It is always evolving, especially with new regulations, new laws, new rulemaking, new court decisions. It’s always “Let’s try to add that ball to the 17 that I'm already juggling!” Never a dull moment.

When did all this privacy work become a priority to corporations?

I was fortunate enough to get here early. I worked at a bank as a VP of direct marketing and that's how I got into it. (Although I don't count that in the 16 years I’ve spent in this field.) They needed somebody to send a privacy notice. So that's how I got into privacy, and then was lucky enough to be able to move over to another financial services firm to do privacy full-time.

I got into it back then because of Gramm-Leach-Bliley and things like that. So I was early into it because I happened to be in an industry that had a privacy law back then. Then I went to a tech company who had a privacy program, but it wasn't that big, even though that there was a famous Bill Gates memo circulating about trustworthy computing.

Ultimately, I think it's over the last 16 years that companies have gotten more interested and involved in this area. It was very rare initially; as a matter of fact, when I got into privacy and I would tell people that was my job, they often looked at me like, “What's that?” Whereas today, there's not one person who asks me, “What does that mean?” Everybody knows now, so it's changed a lot. And I'm lucky to be in it.

You stand out as an early adopter of artificial intelligence and other sophisticated technology to accomplish what you need to do in your field. Why might others in the privacy and legal worlds be slow to adopt these new technologies? Have you confronted any barriers in this sense during your career?

I think part of it is just because I see the value in it. I'm not going to say lightly that, “Oh, yeah, I'm a trendsetter” or anything like that. But, coming from a tech background, living in the area that I do, and having kids who are in college or just out of college—it keeps your mind open and thinking about different ways to do things. I've always been that way. It's always been curious about new ways of doing things. That's why, for instance, in my program, I'm constantly focused on how we can mature our strategies.

How do we do things better? How do we get the right technology in place? We're working on data mapping right now, to help us better respond to data requests. We want to classify and protect the data where it sits, so we can ensure that we know where all the data lives, how it flows between countries, et cetera.

I was looking for a new vendor to help and didn't realize we already had relationships with five vendors with this kind of capability. So then we shifted gears to find who had the best expertise. Ideally, we'll be able to achieve our goals here without too much manual intervention. That's where AI comes in—you can do things faster and better using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In today’s tech and social media landscape, we often give away some of our privacy to get better service, better search results, free products—all kinds of stuff. Do you think that's a fair trade off? What are your thoughts on modern data privacy in the consumer realm?

You’re right; that’s a choice I make. It's a choice I choose to make the same way that, back in the day, people used to apply for a credit card at baseball stadiums and get the free blanket. Right? That was a choice I made—I wanted the blanket. Right. Then I got the card, and whether or not I kept the card is a whole different thing, but I made that choice. I think the big issues is, please don't make choices for me.

As I navigate around the internet, sometimes I get really tired of seeing that one ad. So I’ll say, okay, can you show me something new? And doing things like blocking the ads does help you see something new. But if I have to see the same ad for the same sofa across 17 different websites, it becomes a little obnoxious. It just is.

On the other hand, there are things where I think we go too far. For instance, there's ways that companies can track your online behavior with your offline behavior. I might walk into a car dealership, with my phone’s location services on, and they'll know that Jennifer Garone has been shopping for BMWs online—but now, “Oh my gosh, she's in a Mercedes dealer. Let's try to convert her!” That I find more than a little creepy.

I also find that sometimes apps listen. For example, conversations I’ve had with my husband. I don't have Instagram or Facebook on my phone, and part of the reason why is because he has Instagram. So we'll have a conversation about something like buying a couch, and next thing you know, he's got ads for couches showing up on his Instagram feed, and that is creepy. I can see why people get up in arms about that. So I think that there's a fine line that corporations and regulators and others need to address. We can address it, and let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but the emphasis on choice should be there.

Looking back on your career, what are some of the wins you're most proud of?

I won an Engineering Excellence award from Microsoft in 2012 because we built a platform to help honor customer preferences. I think that's one of the things I'm proud of: building out programs and helping companies or groups get to a business- and customer-focused privacy program. But many of my favorite wins are hiring talent who had little to no privacy experience and giving them that opportunity to learn and grow into their own careers, and seeing them succeed where they are now.

What do you do when you're not working? How do you like to decompress and just enjoy life?

I'm a member of my city council and I'm running for reelection next month, but I'm unopposed; I've done this for four years already. So I volunteer in my community. I'm also a board member for the Eastside Heritage Center in Bellevue, Washington. I enjoy helping to preserve those stories, and the heritage of the Bellevue area of Washington. I also like to read and ski and hang out with my family.

We also have an Italian restaurant that I spend some time working at. Last summer I was working seven days a week, because it was just hard to hire people, but now, fortunately, I'm not. I just do the social media and the menu updates and stuff like that.

You know, I just find that I can't sit idle. Life is too short.

What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill, especially when you're looking at potential hires or leaders?

The immediate thought to me is, when I've hired people, the ability to learn and have an open mind and be open to direction is crucial. Coachability. I just hired a guy who was a professional basketball player with absolutely no professional background except for a certificate degree, because I said to myself, “He's going to be coachable.”

Hannah Baxter is a strategic partnerships account executive at Relativity.

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