Innovating in the age of GDPR

Expo

Customers are becoming increasingly aware of their rights when it comes to data privacy and they expect companies to safeguard the data they entrust to them. With the introduction of GDPR, a lot of companies had to think about privacy for the first time.

I’ve been invited to share my views on innovating in the age of GDPR as part of the Cloud and Cyber Security Expo in London.

When I was preparing for this panel I was trying to understand why this was even a topic to begin with. Why should innovation stop? If your business model is threatened by the GDPR then you are clearly doing something wrong. This means that your business model was relying on exploitation of consumers which is not good.

But when I thought about it a bit more, I realised that there are costs to demonstrating compliance to the regulator that a company would also have to account for. It’s arguably easier achieved by bigger companies with established compliance teams rather than smaller upstarts, serving as a barrier to entry. Geography also plays a role here. What if a tech firm starts in the US or India, for example, where the regulatory regime is more relaxed when it comes to protecting customer data and then expands to Europe when it can afford it? At least at a first glance, companies starting up in Europe are at a disadvantage as they face potential regulatory scrutiny from day one.

How big of a problem is this? I’ve been reading about people complaining that you need fancy lawyers who understand technology to address this challenge. I would argue, however, that fancy lawyers are only required when you are doing shady stuff with customer data. Smaller companies that are just starting up have another advantage on their side: they are new. This means they don’t have go and retrospectively purge legacy systems of data they have been collecting over the years potentially breaking the business logic in the interdependent systems. Instead, they start with a clean slate and have an opportunity to build privacy in their product and core business processes (privacy by design).

Risk may increase while the company grows and collects more data, but I find that this risk-based approach is often missing. Implementation of your privacy programme will depend on your risk profile and appetite. Level of risk will vary depending on type and amount of data you collect. For example, a bank can receive thousands of subject access requests per month, while a small B2B company can receive one a year. Implementation of privacy programmes will therefore be vastly different. The bank might look into technology-enabled automation, while a small company might look into outsourcing subject request processes. It is important to note, however, that risk can’t be fully outsourced as the company still ultimately owns it at the end of the day

The market is moving towards technology-enabled privacy processes: automating privacy impact assessments, responding to customer requests, managing and responding to incidents, etc.

I also see the focus shifting from regulatory-driven privacy compliance to a broader data strategy. Companies are increasingly interested in understanding how they can use data as an asset rather than a liability. They are looking for ways to effectively manage marketing consents and opt out and giving power and control back to the customer, for example by creating preference centres.

Privacy is more about the philosophy of handling personal data rather than specific technology tricks. This mindset in itself can lead to innovation rather than stifling it. How can you solve a customers’ problem by collecting the minimum amount of personal data? Can it be anonymised? Think of personal data like toxic waste – sure it can be handled, but with extreme care.


GDPR compliance automation: responding to data subject requests

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new European legislation intended to strengthen personal data protection for European citizens and harmonise personal data protection rules within the European Union. GDPR replaces the 1998 EU Data Protection Directive and the national laws that implemented this Directive. GDPR becomes the law in all EU Member States without the need for further legislation, though in some areas, Member States are allowed to adopt further specific laws on certain topics, for example, in relation to biometric data and employment data.

What is personal data?

Personal data is defined as any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual. For example, your name, date of birth, home address, personal email address, your tax identification number, fingerprints, phone number, performance data and medical information are all personal data, but it can also be any combination of data that can identify you.

What rights do individuals have?

The GDPR provides the following rights for individuals:

  • The right to be informed
  • The right of access
  • The right to rectification
  • The right to erasure
  • The right to restrict processing
  • The right to data portability
  • The right to object
  • Rights in relation to automated decision making and profiling.

You can find out more on the ICO website. Companies receive the majority of requests in relation to the right to access and right to be forgotten.

What is the Right of Access?

A data subject access request is when an individual requests to have access to their personal data stored by the company. The purpose of the right to access personal data is to enable individuals to be in control of their own personal data (e.g. understand what personal data is processed and verify the lawfulness of processing).

All personal data which is being processed will need to be provided to the data subject, with a few exceptions to protect the data rights of other individuals and commercial secrets. In some cases, where the relevant systems provide for this, the right of access can be complied with by self-service by the data subject.

What is the Right to be Forgotten?

A data subject may make a request for the right to erasure, also known as the right to be forgotten. The right to be forgotten applies when: the individual has withdrawn consent, the data was processed unlawfully, or the data must be erased to comply with legal obligation. Only data items are forgotten for which the company does not have a legal basis (e.g. tax, accounting, employment, legal, etc.) or business purpose to retain.

The extent to which data can be erased depends on the nature of the personal data. For example, an employee cannot request that the fact that he or she worked at the company be deleted. When a data subject enacts their right to be forgotten, their personal data needs to be either deleted or anonymised such that it can no longer be linked back to the individual.

How to automate responding to data subject requests

Below is a high-level diagram of the solution that automates the processes that need to be carried out to comply with the regulation.

Tool

This includes collecting data from different systems in order to fulfill a Subject Access Request and instructing systems to delete/anonymise data as part of a Right to be Forgotten request.

Process automation requires that asset inventories and data flows are first documented and personal data processing systems are identified.

The solution then integrates with system APIs and orchestrates data subject requests. It allows the operator (data privacy team) to generate a consumable report and carry out necessary identity verification checks before responding to the request. It also enables the operator to customise the report if needed.

This approach ensures personal data is collected or removed from all the systems in scope and accelerates the process of responding to the requestor within the 30-day period.