Three Easy GDPR Violations to Avoid

Privacy Compliance
December 30, 2021

Three Easy GDPR Violations to Avoid

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an EU law that affects how personal data can be handled and used by any organization, company, or individual. This law also gives GDPR the authority to impose hefty fines for infractions. Read on for the rundown on three very common violations - and how to avoid them.

What is a GDPR violation?

A violation occurs when personal data is unlawfully or inadvertently destroyed, lost, tampered with, leaked, or accessed.

Data breaches can happen in unexpected ways. Failure to notify when personal data is compromised, loss or theft of equipment containing personal information, or even the unauthorized disclosure of data caused by a security breach at the cloud service where the data was "securely" stored, can all put data at risk.

While there are clear guidelines for compliance, it can be a lot less straightforward when there's been a violation. But, simply not being well informed does not protect an organization from penalties.

Three Common GDPR Violations

A Poorly Defined Policy

Perhaps the most common violation is in the most obvious place – the privacy policy.

A well-written, comprehensive privacy policy should be the centerpiece of your data protection efforts - containing a list of your data practices (collection, processing, storage, and an open view of your data flows).

Ensure the company's privacy policy is readily available on your website and in all languages your website appears in. 

It should be written in a plain, quickly understood language, refraining from legal jargon wherever possible. The objective is to give helpful information in an easy-to-find format.

A privacy policy is a legal document that explains how your company handles personal information and must include the following details: 

  • An overview of your customer's rights (rights to erasure, access, etc.)
  • A list and explanation of how to contact you to exercise those rights
  • A description of what data you will be collecting and how it will be used
  • How long the data will be stored
  • And protection measures you'll be employing to keep it safe

Important to remember: A privacy policy should cover not just the data handled and collected on your website but also apply to all of the services supplied to clients and the data processing necessary for them, as well.

Collecting Unnecessary Data

GDPR prohibits any collection of personal data unless there is explicit consent from the person whose data has been collected. It states that permission should be given "freely, specific and informed" and gives individuals the right to withdraw consent at any time without giving up their right to take legal action.

GDPR also requires that consent should be specific to the purpose. Many general website contact forms include numerous fields that are excessive and ask for far too much information. The most common potentially unnecessary data includes first and last name, phone number, gender, and profession.

If such info is absolutely required, you may follow up with the client and request it. It's not in line with the GDPR to collect personal information in advance because it might be needed later.

The larger your personal data set, the more storage space and security precautions you'll need to safeguard it – which will cost you time as well as money. 

Ex: It'll take you longer to find what you're looking for in searching through hundreds or even thousands of outdated entries rather than a few hundred current ones. 

Also, according to data protection guidelines, personal data must not be kept for longer than is necessary.

This is where a data inventory, another GDPR compliance requirement, comes in handy. It acts as a list of all personal data processes, documented uses, and specific individuals within the organization (and authorized third parties) that have access to that data.

The GDPR applies to all personal data handled or recorded by a company. If you keep data offline, you must ensure that it is dealt with and managed in a way that is also compliant.

Inappropriate Sharing

GDPR prohibits the sharing of personal data, except in a few particular cases:

  • When data is being shared with another GDPR-compliant organization - but only if it would benefit the person whose information has been collected
  • When data is requested by law enforcement agencies
  • When explicit permission has been given by the customer to the organization to share their data for statistical or research purposes - especially in the case where gathered information would identify them individually

The General Data Protection Regulation requires companies to meet secure data transfer safeguards. This includes tokenization and encryption.

Through tokenization, information is rendered meaningless or "tokenized" while being transmitted across a network to ensure security. It allows for the preservation of the data's characteristics in a way that makes it easily and securely transferrable. 

Sensitive data can also be protected through encryption. Without the key used to encrypt shared data, it is completely unreadable. It doesn't preserve the data's format and takes more effort to implement. However, that also means an added layer of protection for the collected data.

This encryption is required for data transmitted over the internet unless additional protective measures are used, such as virtual private networks (VPNs). Violations may be imposed on any data accessed, modified, or otherwise used by an unauthorized agent.

How much do GDPR violations cost?

GDPR violations often result in a fine, and these penalties affect companies around the world. All organizations that do business with anyone located in the European Union are subject to the GDPR, even if the company itself is not based in Europe.

For severe offenses, a GDPR violation can cost upwards of 20 million euros (22,626,900 USD), or up to 4% of a company's gross revenue of the preceding fiscal year, whichever is higher. Lesser fines aren't much lighter, costing up to 10 million euros (11,313,450 USD), or 2% of the previous year's gross revenue. Again, whichever is higher.

Intentional breaches, a failure to take precautions to prevent harm, or a lack of collaboration with authorities may result in more significant fines.

How are violations discovered?

Violations are discovered when there's a GDPR complaint filed or an investigation started against an organization. These reported breaches can be intentional, such as personal data being used for purposes other than what was agreed to during collection. Or, more often, they are unintentional. As when a company is cited for failing to proactively mention GDPR compliance in their public statements.

To avoid violations, it is recommended that any company that deals with personal data should develop and implement its own GDPR plan within its organization. This includes creating a uniform GDPR policy for employees and any third-party agents to ensure overall compliance.

How to Prevent GDPR Violations

The best way to avoid hefty GDPR violation fines is to be proactive.

The most common reasons why GDPR violations occur are ignorance, negligence, or simply because organizations are not equipped with the tools to comply. Regardless of the reason, noncompliance costs.

This is exactly why having an effective Data Protection Officer (DPO) is so important.

A GDPR Data Protection Officer (DPO) is an employee or contractor who has specific obligations under GDPR, including carrying out systematic monitoring and processing of sensitive data. DPOs work to ensure full compliance with GDPR requirements and responsibilities.

GDPR violations can be pretty costly. The GDPR is long and complex, making compliance potentially challenging for any organization - even with a designated Privacy Officer. Not to mention that GDPR is just one of the many privacy laws for handling personal data.

Organizing and processing techniques might be overwhelming if you don't have the proper tools.

That's where we come in.

With Accountable's easy-to-use framework, your Data Protection Officer will have all of the information, processes, and documentation they need at their fingertips. Let us help your organization manage all the steps of GDPR and avoid these common violations, plus many others. 

Schedule a call with us to learn how you can start on your compliance journey, today.

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