How New Data Protection Laws Affect Your Non-Transactional Website

Good news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever. Bad news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever.

Good news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever.

Bad news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever.

The increased regulatory activity is certainly good news for all of us as consumers. As marketers, that silver lining can be overshadowed by the cloud of fear, uncertainty, and doubt — to say nothing of the potentially enormous fines — attached to these new regulations. Let’s take a look at what your responsibilities are (or are likely to become) as privacy regulations become more widely adopted.

Before we begin: I’m not a lawyer. You should absolutely consult one, as there are so many ways the various regulations may or may not apply to your firm. Many of the regulations are regional in nature — GDPR applies to the EU, CCPA to California residents, the SHIELD Act to New York State — but the “placelessness” of the Internet means those regulations may still apply to you, if you do business with residents of those jurisdictions (even though you’re located elsewhere).

Beyond Credit Cards and Social Security Numbers

With the latest round of rules, regulators are taking a broader view of what constitutes personally identifiable information or “PII.” This is why regulations are now applicable for a non-transactional website.

We are clearly beyond the era when the only data that needed to be safeguarded was banking information and social security numbers. Now, even a site visitor’s IP address may be considered PII. In short, you are now responsible for data and privacy protection on your website, regardless of that website’s purpose.

Though a burden for site owners, it’s not hard to understand why this change is a good thing. With so much data living online now, the danger isn’t necessarily in exposing any particular data point, but in being able to piece so many of them together.

Fortunately, the underlying principles are nearly as simple as the regulations themselves are confusing.

SSL Certificates

Perhaps the most basic element of data protection is an SSL certificate. Though it isn’t directly related to the new regulatory environment it’s a basic foundational component of solid data handling. You probably already have an SSL certificate in place; if not, that should be your first order of business. They’re inexpensive — there are even free versions available — and they have the added benefit of improving search engine performance.

Get Consent

Second on your list of good data-handling practices is getting visitor consent before gathering information. Yes, opt-in policies are a pain. Yes, double opt-in policies are even more of a pain — and can drive down engagement rates. Both are necessary to adhere to some of the new regulations.

This includes not only information you gather actively — like email addresses for gated content — but also more passive information, like the use of cookies on your website.

Give Options

Perhaps the biggest shift we’re seeing is toward giving site visitors more options over how their PII is being used. For example, the ability to turn cookies off when visiting a site.

You should also provide a way for consumers to see what information you have gathered and associated with their name, account, or email address.

Including the Option to Be Forgotten

Even after giving consent, consumers should have the right to change their minds. As marketers, that means giving them the ability to delete the information we’ve gathered.

Planning Ad Responsibilities For Data Breaches

Accidents happen, new vulnerabilities emerge, and you can’t control every aspect of your data handling as completely as you’d like. Being prepared for the possibility of a data breach is as important as doing everything you can to prevent them in the first place.

What happens when user information is exposed will depend on the data involved, your location, and what your privacy and data retention policies have promised, as well as which regulations you are subject to.

Be prepared with a plan of action for addressing all foreseeable data breaches. In most cases, you’ll need to alert those who have been or may have been affected. There may also be timeframes in which you must send alerts and possibly remediation in the form of credit or other monitoring.

A Small Investment Pays Off

As a final note, I’ll circle back to the “I’m not a lawyer” meme. A lawyer with expertise in this area is going to be an important part of your team. So, too, will a technology lead who is open to changing how he or she has thought about data privacy in the past. For those who haven’t dealt with transactional requirements in the past, this can be brand new territory which may require new tools and even new vendors.

All of this comes at a price, of course, but given the stakes — not just the fines, but the reputational losses, hits to employee morale, and lost productivity — it’s a small investment for doing right by your prospects and customers.