James Aylett

Close-Up: James Aylett, Chief Data Officer

The future of data is taking shape now. James Aylett, our Chief Data Officer, believes data-driven marketing and consumer privacy can coexist there, harmoniously.

How did you get into data privacy?

Throughout my career, there’s always been an element of data privacy. A long time before GDPR, I was CTO for an adtech company that developed processes and practices for the responsible handling of sensitive data. Later on, I was involved with a broad-range of apps and consumer websites, from startups to multinationals — so I needed to be well-versed in the cookie notice requirements which were just emerging in Europe.

I joined Annalect not long after the EU passed GDPR (April 2016), to focus on marketing data and technology for EMEA. So as you can imagine — a huge chunk of my ensuing time, effort, and conversation was in preparation for the GDPR enforcement date of May 25, 2018. Since then, I’ve spent increasingly more time examining changes being driven by the growing attention to privacy — for example, Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

This new puzzle of compliance needs, changing technology, and brands’ increasing focus on data ethics — including the realization of brand values within their use of data — requires a broad and unusual background to decipher. There are privacy specialists, and digital/data marketing specialists — and then there’s us, working at the intersection — helping clients overcome rapidly-evolving regulatory and technological hurdles.

What drives your passion for work?

I love learning new things, and solving complex problems. The application of comprehensive privacy laws to marketing data is just that — ever-changing and complex!

Data supply chains often involve multiple companies and places data is gathered for an individual. Plus, there are always new tech approaches, like post-cookie digital identity systems — and constraints, a la Apple/Google browser and operating system controls. You need a thorough understanding of every element, and the ability to interpret them through the lens of rapidly-evolving regulation and technology. I review even the smallest details.

It’s also exciting to be at the forefront of a defining issue. In a world that’s increasingly digital — and increasingly overseen by AI — we’re having a say in what the future looks like.

What do you most enjoy doing, outside of work?

I’ve run an improvised theatre company, and more recently, a podcast of improvised stories. Over the last 18 months we managed some virtual sessions — but I’m looking forward to doing them face-to-face again.

Also, I read … a lot. At some point, I’ll have to start crafting bookcases.