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Will companies go back to school on privacy?

A university and a data-handling consultancy hope to help companies that have failed to make the grade in Privacy 101.

A university and a data-handling consultancy hope to help companies that have failed to make the grade in Privacy 101.

Information consultancy Privacy Council and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas announced Monday that they would team up to offer three-day seminars to chief privacy officers and other executives who are charged with being the conscience of their companies in the information age.

The focus on educating corporate executives about the ins and outs of data handling underscores the importance that privacy has claimed in the high-tech world.

"We want to start getting businesses and executives trained to manage data," said Gary Clayton, chief executive officer of Richardson, Texas-based Privacy Council. "Chief privacy officers are going to handle what will be the money of the 21st century--data."

The courses aim to educate the newest addition to the boardroom. That education is sorely needed, said Richard Smith, chief technical officer of the nonprofit Privacy Foundation.

"It's just that all of this is new. Look, cookies have only been around five years. Third-party cookies about two, and Web bugs for about the same," he said.

Companies have seemingly agreed on the necessity of having someone in charge of making sense of the privacy morass.

Last month, EarthLink added a chief privacy officer to its executive team, just after IBM's November decision to do so.

Microsoft, one of the leaders in Internet privacy, has recognized a similar position for only a year, said Richard Purcell, the Redmond, Wash.-based company's director of corporate privacy.

"It will take more than three days to cover," he said of the seminars. "I believe that as an industry, and a community and a society, we are just beginning to understand this issue."

Purcell and several other experienced privacy officers from companies such as Travelocity and AOL Time Warner will give lectures on privacy.

The first seminar will start in March, and more focused seminars--on such issues as financial privacy and European privacy regulations--will start in July.