A better question would be whether data privacy ever truly existed. Anytime someone shares their information, at least one other person sees it and can use it for whatever purpose they choose–legal or illegal. In the last few years, the media reported one data breach after another, showing how giving your personal details to others isn’t always conducive to data privacy.
However, companies can do numerous things to protect their customers. Some of those policies and practices are obvious and others might be a bit more obscure.
Has the Internet Destroyed Our Data Privacy?
Forbes recently reported on the concerns with lack of data privacy in the post-COVID era. In a recent survey, approximately 64.5% of people want legislation to prevent companies from selling their personal data collected via online and mobile interactions.
For decades, the world wide web has been a sort of wild west where about anything goes. However, now that the majority of the globe accesses the internet at least some of the time, people are much more concerned with protecting information and avoiding scammers, hackers and identity thieves.
Even deeper than just protecting sensitive details is that consumers hate feeling overwhelmed with the number of ads and intrusive messages. For example, a person wants to lose a few pounds and searches for the best ways to lose weight.
Suddenly, the user sees ads on social media, in browser search results and maybe even their email about various weight loss programs. Suddenly, everywhere the customer turns, people know their business.
Big Tech Is Guilty of Invading Data Privacy
Unfortunately, big tech invades data privacy at their own admission. Recently, Facebook settled a lawsuit accusing them of reading messages users believed to be private. There are also many gray areas when it comes to who keeps what information on users.
For example, Facebook and other social media platforms track user data to serve them ads and content related to their preferences. Google tracks activities and shares the data with business owners.
While most consumers understand their browsing behavior may be part of the stored information on them and a way of advertisers sending messages to a highly targeted audience, the results can seem invasive at best.
Users rightly have some expectations that the government and big tech will take steps to secure their personal information and not sell it off to the highest bidder. Since this doesn’t always happen, a number of lawmakers have passed legislation to ensure it does.
Laws About Data Privacy
One of the best known data privacy laws comes out of the European Union (EU) with the General Data Protection Regulation Act (GDPR).
Since business is global in the 2020s, the likelihood that most businesses will encounter a customer from the EU is highly likely. Companies that don’t protect data and share their policies may incur fines under the GDPR.
Some states also enacted legislation about data privacy, including:
If a business is located in one of these states or does business with citizens of the location, it’s crucial to understand the privacy laws and how it impacts the ways a company collects and stores personal data.
Add to the equation the many ways data gets stored and shared and it’s easy to see why brands must take as many steps as possible to protect sensitive information.
How Can Companies Protect Their Business and Client Data Privacy?
Since data privacy is such a huge concern in the modern Fourth Industrial Revolution that includes artificial intelligence, cloud computing and big data, understanding the steps to protect both company data and stored customer information is crucial to success.
Larger companies may have more things to secure, while a graphic designer running a freelance business will have fewer entry points for cyberthieves. Still, the steps to protect companies and personal data remain the same no matter the size of the organization.
1. Encrypt Information
Anytime a company sends information online, it should be encrypted. Using an encryption code at the file level protects data when it’s sent via cloud-based software or email. Hackers have a harder time translating the file and understanding the contents.
Unauthorized users can’t access the data or understand the communication between apps clients use and the company’s servers. One example would be a conference gathering information for an event registration. Sensitive data might include credit card numbers collected for payment.
2. Erase Data on Used Devices
Most companies and individuals sell their old cell phones, computers and other mobile devices when upgrading to the latest model. If equipment isn’t properly reset, sensitive data could get in the wrong hands. Follow these steps to ensure you don’t give hackers access to databases:
- Backup the information on your device.
- Log out of all accounts and deactivate or uninstall software.
- Initiate a factory reset.
- Double-check that the phone is on factory reset and contains no personal information.
Some companies choose to destroy old devices rather than sell them to prevent any slight possibility of data falling into the wrong hands. However, smaller businesses may not be able to afford to take the hit from not reselling old equipment, so ensuring all data gets removed is the next best option.
3. Keep Only Necessary Data
It’s tempting to gather as much information as possible and use it for future marketing and outreach purposes. However, keeping a lot of data only opens a company up to risk. In the event of a cyberattack, the hackers will have details customers might not want them to have.
Make it a habit to go in and delete old accounts and only collect the data needed to complete tasks. Do regular scans of the databases to see what information should be removed.
4. Choose Secure Tools
Businesses must often interact with data in real time, so understanding which tools help your business grow is vital. However, management should also dig into what security measures each third-party software utilizes to keep shared details safe.
Look for a dashboard tool that integrates with all the different programs in use. Companies grow quickest and most efficiently when they use the technology around them. Know the brands offering services and choose the ones that take security seriously.
5. Remember Physical Security
Although cybercrimes are on the rise, some data breaches happen due to disgruntled employees grabbing paperwork or other sensitive information on their way out the door.
Also, train employees in security, such as avoiding phishing attempts or not letting someone see the password they type in at a coffee shop. Force frequent password changes to log into the system and make them complex.
6. Target the Right Information
While a business shouldn’t track or keep data they don’t truly need, there is some information that helps with marketing and serving customers well.
One example is location-based tracking, which helps marketers serve up information to users in a specific area and hone in on potential customers.
Service businesses, such as heating and cooling, restaurants, or carpet cleaning, are quite likely to need this type of data to promote effectively.
7. Identify System Vulnerabilities
Spend time looking at all the places data resides on servers. Are they secured? Who accesses the various data points? How can the brand ensure their computers are as secure as possible.
Choose an antivirus and firewall and stick with similar settings and protocols for everyone. If a data breach ever occurred, review how the hackers got into the system and ensure those backdoors are closed.
8. Organize Big Data
One of the biggest problems with security is figuring out what data an organization has and keeping it in categories so nothing slips through the cracks. It’s easy to let data privacy fall through the cracks when people aren’t even aware of what’s in the system.
Placing everything in specific folders and reviewing it often helps avoid a situation where vulnerabilities open and a data breach occurs.
9. Create a Plan for the Worst Case Scenario
Perhaps the business did everything possible to keep data secure and somehow a breach occurred anyway. Damage control should be part of any data privacy security plan. What happens when sensitive information falls into the wrong hands?
Covering up a breach is never a good idea. Customers should know immediately which information was exposed and the steps the company is taking to prevent any further breaches.
A brand might lose some loyal customers when a cyberattack occurs, but others will become more loyal if the company handles the situation with thoughtfulness and action.
10. Update Software
With the million other things most business owners must do, keeping software updated sometimes falls by the wayside. However, many software updates contain security patches. Leaving anything on the oldest version opens it up to potential hacking.
Make it a habit to install updates automatically. Website updates should be a top priority. Database and security software must be regularly checked. Even if automatic updates are enabled, go ahead and check to ensure the business misses nothing.
11. Stop an Attack in Real Time
Hire a third-party IT response team if the company can’t afford to keep a full-time team on staff.
Various services monitor a website or database, looking for potential points of failure and if noticing something like an SQL-injection attack, they can take steps to block the offending IP address and lock down vulnerabilities.
Hackers might get in for a second, but they’ll be kicked out before they can do too much damage. Never pay ransomware or respond to phishing attempts or threatening emails.
It’s better to lose some data and reset to an earlier version of a site or database than to pay criminals and attract even more attacks.
Does Data Privacy Still Exist?
In the age of big tech, one can never be 100% certain their information won’t be exposed. As more of daily living goes digital, the issues might expand even more. Companies should do everything in their power to protect sensitive information.
Customers have to know they can trust a brand to protect them before they’ll share minute details of their lives. Enlist that type of trust by having a smart and updated security plan in place.
About the Author!
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. Eleanor was the creative director and occasional blog writer at a prominent digital marketing agency before becoming her own boss in 2018. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dog, Bear.