Serving as Product Counsel for a Global Technology Leader
By Axiom Law
Get to know Ayako Christopher at a glance:
- 10+ years of legal experience
- Worked as an anti-money laundering consultant for Capital One, American Express, and BDO
- Currently engaged as product counsel with a focus on data privacy for a leading global social media company
A lawyer with deep experience in data privacy law across a diverse range of industries, Ayako Christopher brings invaluable knowledge to Axiom clients at a particularly high-stakes moment. Currently, she is serving as product counsel to deliver her expertise to a leading global social media company where there are always new products -- and new regulations.
As data policy and regulations are changing around the world, nearly every company with a digital presence is facing pressure from regulators and increasingly digitally savvy consumers. “Consumer privacy and data privacy are really on the top of people's minds now more so than ever because of all the different high-profile data breaches and people being more aware of what personal data is out there,” explains Ayako.
Ayako has applied her insights and skills to businesses in the tech, telecommunications, and financial services industries and beyond. In addition, her engagements with Axiom clients have bolstered her expertise in regulatory and data-privacy compliance.
Serving as product counsel for a global technology leader
Since November 2020, Ayako has been engaged as Product Counsel at a leading social media company -- her seventh Axiom engagement overall. The company, which continually develops new products for a global market, brought Ayako on board to oversee an additional compliance function that reviews changes to their APIs.
Ayako’s current role combines compliance and product-advisory work and involves a cross-functional team that includes engineers, product managers, and development operations. She and another Axiom lawyer are the only two legal reviewers on the team. “We review what’s being shared,” Ayako explains. “Does it need to be shared? Is it legal in these different areas? And just because it's legal, is it good public policy?” The project owner’s review must be clear enough to be understood by a person with little or no technical knowledge or institutional knowledge of the business -- an auditor, for example.
The road to data privacy expertise
Ayako’s career has taken some turns that may seem surprising on paper. “Although if you look,” she elaborates, “you do see that my career is based on risk assessments -- identifying risk and learning how to speak to people based on who they are and where they are.” There’s a process to all this, she explains -- knowing the audience, understanding the needs of different teams or stakeholders (sometimes in different countries), sharing guidance pertinent to each party involved, understanding what they will need to do with that guidance, and putting forward the information in the best way for them to act.
Ayako grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. In her undergrad years, she planned to become a doctor, majoring in biochemistry, and interning at the Human Genome Project. Meanwhile, she served as director of the university’s Black Student Commission, handling funding, and creating programs for Black student groups, and was later elected to the university’s Board of Directors. Eventually, she realized she didn’t want a future working in a laboratory or attending medical school, and, instead, she graduated with a major in American Ethnic Studies before enrolling at Brooklyn Law School.
Ayako’s first role after finishing law school was as an anti-money laundering consultant at a BDO, a top 10 US consulting firm. Her banking compliance work led her to consult for several leading financial institutions, including American Express and Washington Mutual, and then continued anti-money laundering work in-house at Capital One. Next, she worked on compliance with insider trading, Anti-Money Laundering Act (AML) risk assessment, and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) assessment for a large, post-trade financial services company in Tampa, Florida.
After another stint consulting with financial services companies in New York and Delaware, she moved to Washington, DC, in 2015, where she worked for an international telecommunication company and added data privacy, anti-bribery, and anti-corruption work to her skill set. This was her introduction to data privacy law as the company was in the midst of becoming GDPR-compliant. “Seeing how companies all over the globe are trying to deal with the same issue at the same time -- it was really exciting to learn what other companies were doing to get best practices,” she says.
Developing a depth of data privacy experience and reaching a career highlight at Axiom
Ayako wanted to delve even deeper into data privacy law, an opportunity which Axiom provided via her first engagement with one of the world’s largest conglomerate companies, ensuring alignment with high-risk vendors around GDPR compliance. Serving as the only lawyer on this task, Ayako and the client’s team identified several hundred vendors by looking at the company’s spending, the personal data those vendors were processing, and the risk involved in the vendors’ respective service areas. The client and those vendors then negotiated DPAs. “By the end of that project, I felt like I knew Article 28 of the GDPR like the back of my hand,” Ayako says, “and what best practices and what the guidance say.”
Her Axiom engagements have also enabled Ayako to continue to grow as a lawyer. “Working with all these different companies and being integrated into their legal practices allows you to really get to see first-hand and take best practices from each client, help build your knowledge, and help you become a better attorney for your next client,” she says.
Ayako considers her current Axiom engagement to be a career highlight. “This role allows me to use everything that I've learned in my background, really leverage those experiences and bring it to my client,” she explains. “It requires a lot of thinking on your feet, learning a product as quickly as you can, and then basically you try to poke holes in the product to identify the risks.”
Staying current in an evolving space
The data privacy space continues to evolve. Beyond the headline-grabbing new regulations, new data privacy laws are emerging around technology like AI and facial recognition, and in an array of sectors, including some very specific ones, such as children’s health. And, with COVID vaccines being distributed broadly, there are legal questions around companies’ vaccination policies and employees’ compliance with them. “As we get access to new technology, they're always going to bring different legal questions, especially in the data privacy space.” Ayako says. “And, there are implications in intellectual property and other legal practice areas, as well.”
To Ayako, Axiom lawyers’ hands-on experience makes them prime for advising businesses on making sound decisions that comply with regulations and serve the business’s goals. “I definitely think that Axiom lawyers, by necessity, are more business-minded,” she says. “When you are integrated into the legal department and learn the business’s risks threshold -- what's their strategy, what's their priority right now -- you can balance legal considerations with the business and commercial considerations.”
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