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Five Truths About Privacy That Can Help Keep Your Company’s Data Safe


Jodi Daniels is a privacy consultant and Founder/CEO of Red Clover Advisors, one of the few Women’s Business Enterprises focused on privacy.

Any business that collects data from its customers is at least peripherally aware of data privacy issues. They probably know they need to have a privacy policy and should be cautious about how they use their customers’ data for marketing campaigns.

And everyone knows that data needs to be protected from hackers.

But those are just a few of the privacy headlines, and if you’re confused about what’s in the fine print, you aren’t alone. Regular passage of new laws and consumers’ increasing expectations for control over their personal data means the data privacy conversation is constantly changing.

Even companies with a good privacy program can find themselves playing catch-up with new regulations and best practices. However, entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to avoid the panicked privacy retrofitting that often hits established companies by building agile, responsive privacy practices into the foundation of their company’s operations and culture.

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With that opportunity in mind, here are five privacy truths you need to consider to keep your privacy program progress on track.

1. Many businesses don’t understand their data.

If you walked onto an average executive floor today and asked senior leaders, “What kind of data are you collecting, what are you doing with it, and who has access to it?” you’d probably get a slightly—or even wildly—different answer from each person. The reality, in my experience, is that many businesses are saddled with at least some data collection and processing methodologies that are noncompliant, unsafe and unnecessary.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to create a data map. Mapping your data involves following a data record on its entire journey through your system. A good data map will show you what data you’re collecting, what you’re doing with it, how and how long you’re storing it, who you’re sharing it with and selling it to, and where it’s vulnerable to exposure.

Data maps are an important part of complying with privacy laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Also known as data inventories, these maps are a fast, effective way to understand your data. Even if you don’t legally need a data inventory, a data map provides an in-depth understanding of data critical to any type of compliance.

2. Businesses often collect too much data.

In the heyday of digital marketing, companies would collect every piece of data they could from users, even if they had no idea how they’d use it. Over-collecting information from your users results in data graveyards that are more susceptible to exposure in a breach. Whether that breach comes through an explicit hack or an exploited employee error, databases full of data you can’t or don’t use are an unnecessary risk.

Rather than accept that risk, work with your operations, marketing, customer service and IT teams to identify exactly what data your company needs to operate. Then, set up processes that collect only that data. It’s a lot of work, but the upside is that smaller databases have lower storage and security costs.

3. IT teams aren’t solely responsible for data privacy.

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Even though they’re often mentioned in the same breath, privacy and cybersecurity aren’t the same things. While your IT team holds primary responsibility for cybersecurity, privacy is an enterprisewide affair.

Your marketing, customer service, operations, legal, human resources and IT teams need to be on the same page when it comes to internal data management practices (i.e., data collection processes, access permissions, password requirements, etc.) and external best practices (i.e., data usage for marketing purposes, data sharing with vendors, data sale to partners, etc.).

Truly efficient and compliant data privacy programs are only possible if they’re created and maintained with input from every department in your organization. If your business doesn’t already have a cross-functional privacy team, establishing and empowering one should be a 2022 priority.

4. Long, jargon-filled privacy policies can make it harder for your customers to trust you.

In the past, it’s been pretty standard for companies to use boilerplate privacy policies that come from their site host or, worse, as a free download from an “expert” site. These privacy policies are often several pages of dense legalese that don’t match with actual data management practices.

Even if your privacy budget is small, it’s worth it to invest in drafting your privacy policy. A good privacy policy is written in plain language that is easy for users to understand. And here’s the kicker: It should also accurately describe how your data collection program works. Don’t forget to update it at least once a year.

5. Third-party vendors can pose a significant risk to your data.

Privacy law is trending toward holding data collectors liable for the privacy processes of their third-party vendors. To protect yourself, spend time reviewing your vendors’ privacy policies. If your vendors can’t (or won’t) match your standards, you need to find someone who will. There’s nothing worse than being responsible for someone else’s mistake when you’ve done everything right.

The good news is that no matter what privacy issues your company is facing, these privacy best practices can help you to manage all of them. Even better, following these basic practices will allow you to create an agile response to unforeseen challenges.

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