On the internet, the rights of consumers matter above all else. Countless websites profit from stealing, gaining unauthorized access to, and selling user data to other merchants without the owner’s consent or knowledge.
Nonetheless, online privacy has become a hot-button issue for several years now. At its climax, the European Union (EU) positioned itself at the crux of the matter by institutionalizing a landmark data privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
This comprehensive law sets data privacy requirements and safeguards for websites all over the world. At first glance, the GDPR can sound confusing. You may not know how to comply or if you’re even in violation.
You may even scoff at the idea of abiding by a mandate that’s not from the United States and are wondering what’s the point in devoting time and money to achieve compliance.
Whatever the case may be, this guide will explain everything there is to know about GDPR compliance and tips for securing your website according to its standards.
What is the GDPR?
The GDPR is, without a doubt, the most extensive and encompassing data privacy law that was ever created. It lists several data privacy laws for all businesses and citizens in the EU, affected by the European Economic Area (EEA).
The law also provides wide-scale flexibility in certain aspects of the law to be configured by other countries. The most interesting aspect of the GDPR is its legality across international jurisdictions.
Even though this data privacy law was passed in the EU, it protects businesses and individual citizens of people even outside of countries in Europe. To clarify, the regulation extends to any entity targeting or acquiring data of anyone in the EU.
This is regardless of the company’s location.
If you process user data from anyone from the EU, you are required by law to abide by the GDPR. Businesses anywhere can be penalized if they violate the requirements of the GDPR and fail to meet basic website security standards.
These penalties are very severe, exceeding tens of millions of euros in total. If you’re selling online products and services at an international level, such as an eCommerce marketplace, then you’ll naturally have no idea if someone from the EU is trusting you with their sensitive data.
Nonetheless, you will still be held liable if you violate the GDPR. More and more people are entrusting their personal data to websites across the cloud everyday. This has only made wide-scale data breaches more prevalent.
Facebook, a social media giant and one of the largest companies of the world, was recently a victim of a wide-scale data breach. If a company like Facebook, who has invested millions of dollars in their online security protocols can be compromised by hackers, then your website is fair game if you don’t adhere to the GDPR.
The challenge in abiding by the GDPR is that, while the regulation is extensive, it’s not entirely specific. Improper guidance to following GDPR standards can be a costly and time-consuming challenge for years to come.
The History of the GDPR
Europe has pioneered laws on data protection for more than 70 years. In 1950, the European Convention of Human Rights created groundbreaking legislation that established the right to privacy for Europeans.
It specifically states that, “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
This legislation paved the way for the GDPR as we know it. During the paradigm shift of the internet in the 90s, the EU recognized that data privacy was an urgent issue. As such, in 1995, they authored a regulation that necessitated bare minimum online security standards and data privacy for websites.
This was called the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.
While this law was extremely progressive in its time, members of the EU were allowed total discretion to enforce these privacy laws. However, in 2012, Parliament urged for more stringent and robust data protection laws.
This was due to the fact that businesses across the world were now capturing and processing nearly-infinite user data at high rates. It also didn’t help that existing privacy laws were now obsolete and insufficient.
After years of consideration, the EU passed the GDPR on April 14, 2016. The EU started to enforce the GDPR officially on May 25, 2018.
GDPR: Scope, Mandates, and Meanings
Before going any further, it’s important to first understand the legal terms regarding the GDPR. These terms will be visible throughout this guide, so it’s important to realize what they mean:
- Personal Data — This is a broad term, meaning all sensitive data that can identify an internet user, both directly and indirectly. Personal data includes, but isn’t limited to: zip codes, ethnicities, email addresses, names, banking details, social media posts, web cookies, religious and political affiliations, IP addresses, biometric data. Even pseudonymous data is considered to be personal, depending on how conspicuously it can be used to identify an internet user.
- Data Processing — This indicates how personal data is acquired and used, both manual and automatic. This is a very broad category. The GDPR isn’t all too specific in what fully constitutes “processing”. It means erasing, recording, structuring, using storing, gathering, and acquiring personal data as processing it.
- Data Subject — This is the person whose data has been accessed, such as a website user or subscriber.
- Data Processor — This is usually a third-party organization that also processes personal data. These entities may include CRM systems, email analytic tools, cloud service vendors, and more. Any service that processes customer payments on your behalf is also considered to be a data processor.
GDPR Compliance: What are Privacy Rights?
As mentioned before, the GDPR established data privacy rights to all people in the EU and surrounding jurisdictions. These rights allow people to become more conscious of how their data is used.
The GDPR, by nature, isn’t a deterrence that prohibits websites from collecting user data. In fact, it’s designed to provide users with information so they know how their data is used.
This way, they can take a risk in providing you with their data, clearing you of any substantial liability if a data breach does occur. For this reason, it’s highly essential to realize the basis of these privacy laws to help you stay in rigid compliance to the GDPR.
These privacy laws are as follows:
The Right to Be Informed:
All data subjects are entitled to be informed when their data is being acquired and used by a controller and any other involved third party. Thus, if user data is gathered, the owner must be informed immediately.
If the data isn’t retrieved from the subject directly, as through a vendor, then the owner must be informed within a month through an accessible form.
The Right of Access:
The GDPR also entitles people to access the information they enter into a website and learn more about how it will be used. The data subject can contact the data protection officer to request a copy of their personal data.
In addition, the data controller must provide any and all information about how their data will be utilized, the purpose of using it, and whether or not a third-party will access it.
The Right of Rectification:
The GDPR gives people the right to immediately have incorrect data amended. For example, if a user requests that you modify their existing data, you must comply within a month or face a penalty.
There is an exception, only if the request is completely unreasonable.
The Right of Erasure:
All data subjects are entitled by law to have their data completely erased and abandoned whenever they make the request. This request must be met within 30 days. There is no exception to this rule.
The Right to Restrict Processing:
Data subjects also have the right to request that the controller cease the processing of their personal data. If a data subject requests that you stop restricting their data, you’ll have to adhere, but you can still store it.
You will have 30 days to comply with these requests.
The Right to Data Portability:
This simply refers to a data subject’s attempt to transfer a user’s personal data from one system to another without restriction from the controller. To put it simply, a data owner must be able to transfer their data flawlessly without affecting its integrity.
The Right to Object:
This condition of the regulation is very critical. All data subjects are entitled to object or dispute how their information is used for sales, marketing, and other business purposes. Your organization must inform users that they can object within the first line of communication.
Though, objections can be considered on a case-by-case basis. Particularly, you aren’t required to comply by a user’s request if it meets the following criteria:
- Legal activities are taking place under federal authority.
- Essential business activities that require your data to provide you with the service or product you’ve paid for.
- An activity performed for the benefit of the public.
You can also refuse a request if it’s deemed unreasonable.
Achieving GDPR Compliance: 5 Important Steps
All organizations dealing with EU residents must adhere to the GDPR. Now that you fully understand what this regulation is and what it entails, here’s how you can maintain compliance in five steps.
- We do not sell personal data.
- We do not share any data unless required by law.
- We only ask for personal data if it’s necessary to provide a service or product.
Cookies are essential for online advertising purposes, but it still hinges on using personal data. When a person lands on your website, you’re required by law to obtain the proper consent to use their cookies.
Step #3: Make Sure Your Website is Compliant
Millions of websites are operated using WordPress, the most popular content management system (CMS). If your WordPress website uses plugins that access personal data, you must provide this information to them immediately.
Step #4: Reduce the Data You’re Storing
If you’re using a lot of forms on your website, only collect data that’s necessary for you to provide a service or a product. Also, hold on to this data for as long as you have to in order to make sure the product or service has been delivered.
Step #5: Update Your Mailing List
If you have obtained email subscribers naturally, then you may not be in violation of the GDPR. However, if you’ve purchased any mailing lists, then you could be in violation if you’ve begun sending them emails.
Make sure your email subscribers can easily unsubscribe from your newsletter. If possible, add a double opt-in feature, so they’re fully aware they’re providing you consent to contact them and access their personal data.
Need Assistance in GDPR Compliance?
GDPR compliance is a polarizing issue across the world, as organizations are scrambling to keep up. If your website is in clear violation of the GDPR, then we’d be glad to help.
Contact us today to speak to a member of our team to see how we can help your organization maintain GDPR compliance.
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