At MOSTLY AI we talk about data privacy a lot. And we were even the first in the world to produce an entire rap dedicated to data privacy!

But what really is data privacy? And what is it not? This blog post aims to provide a clear understanding of the definition of data privacy, its importance, and the various measures being taken to protect it.

The data privacy definition

Data privacy, also referred to as information privacy or data protection, is the concept of safeguarding an individual's personal information from unauthorized access, disclosure, or misuse. It entails the application of policies, procedures, and technologies designed to protect sensitive data from being accessed, used, or shared without the individual's consent.

To fully understand data privacy we thus need to understand Personal information first. Personal information, often referred to as personally identifiable information (PII), is any data that can be used to identify, locate, or contact an individual directly or indirectly.

Personal information encompasses a wide range of data points, including but not limited to, an individual's name, physical address, email address, phone number, Social Security number, driver's license number, passport number, and financial account details. Moreover, personal information can extend to more sensitive data such as medical records, biometric data, race, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. In the digital realm, personal information may also include online identifiers like IP addresses, cookies, or device IDs, which can be traced back to a specific individual.

In essence, data privacy is all about the protection of personal information. Why is that important?

Why is data privacy important?

Even if you don’t care about data privacy at all, the law cares. With numerous data protection regulations and laws in place, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, it is essential for organizations to adhere to these regulations to avoid legal consequences. Gartner predicts that by 2024, 75% of the global population will have its personal data covered under privacy regulations.

Many companies have realized that data privacy is not only a legal requirement, but something customers care about too. In the Cisco 2022 Consumer Privacy Survey, 76 percent of respondents said they would not buy from a company who they do not trust with their data. Ensuring data privacy helps maintain trust between businesses and their customers and can become an important competitive differentiation.

Data privacy is an important element of cybersecurity. Implementing data privacy measures often leads to improved cybersecurity, as organizations take steps to safeguard their systems and networks from unauthorized access and data breaches. This helps to ensure that sensitive personal information such as financial data, medical records, and personal identification details are protected from identity theft, fraud, and other malicious activities.

And in case you’re still not convinced, how about this: The right to privacy or private life is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12) – data privacy is a Human Right! Data privacy empowers individuals to have control over their personal information and decide how it is used, shared, and stored.

All data is personal data in today's era because it can be used to reidentify people

How to protect data privacy in an organization?

Every company, every business is collecting and working with data. To ensure data privacy there is not one thing that a company needs to do, but many things.

Foremost data privacy needs to start from the top in an organization because leadership plays a critical role in establishing a culture of privacy and ensuring the commitment of resources to implement robust data protection measures. When executives and top management prioritize data privacy, it sends a clear message throughout the organization that protecting personal information is a fundamental aspect of the company's values and mission. This commitment fosters a sense of shared responsibility, guiding employees to adhere to privacy best practices, comply with relevant regulations, and proactively address potential risks.

Once the support from the top management is established, data privacy needs to be embedded in an organization. This is typically achieved through implementing privacy policies. Organizations should have clear privacy policies outlining the collection, use, storage, and sharing of personal information. These policies should be easily accessible and comprehensible to individuals.

These policies define certain best practices and standards when it comes to data privacy. Companies that take data privacy seriously follow these, for example:

  • Data minimization: Collecting only the necessary data for the intended purpose, and not retaining it longer than required, helps reduce the risk of unauthorized access or misuse.
  • Data anonymization: Data anonymization is the process of removing or obfuscating personally identifiable information from datasets. The goal of data anonymization is to protect the privacy of individuals whose data is included in the dataset. Anonymized data can be shared more freely than non-anonymized data, as the risk of exposing sensitive information is greatly reduced.
  • Encryption: Encrypting sensitive data ensures that even if unauthorized access occurs, the information remains unreadable and unusable.
  • Access control: Implementing strict access control measures, such as strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, helps prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing sensitive data.

An entire industry around best practices and how these can be ensured (and audited!) has emerged.: Regularly auditing and monitoring data privacy practices within an organization helps identify any potential vulnerabilities and rectify them promptly.

The two most recognized standards and audits are ISO 27001 and SOC 2. ISO 27001 is a globally recognized standard for information security management systems (ISMS), providing a systematic approach to managing sensitive information and minimizing security risks. By implementing and adhering to ISO 27001, organizations can showcase their dedication to maintaining a robust ISMS and assuring stakeholders of their data protection capabilities.

On the other hand, SOC 2 (Service Organization Control 2) is an audit framework focusing on non-financial reporting controls, specifically those relating to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Companies undergoing SOC 2 audits are assessed on their compliance with the predefined Trust Services Criteria, ensuring they have effective controls in place to safeguard their clients' data.

By leveraging ISO 27001 and SOC 2 standards and audits, organizations can not only bolster their internal security and privacy practices but also enhance trust and credibility with clients, partners, and regulatory bodies, while mitigating risks associated with data breaches and non-compliance penalties. We at MOSTLY AI have heavily invested in this space and are certified under both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 Type.

Lastly, let’s turn to the human again: the employees. Numbers are floating around the Internet that claim to show that 95% of all data breaches happen due to human error. Although the primary source for this number could not be identified, it’s probably correct. Therefore, educating employees about data privacy best practices and the importance of protecting sensitive information plays a crucial role in preventing breaches caused by human error.

Data privacy is everyone's business

Data privacy is an essential aspect of our digital lives, as it helps protect personal information and maintain trust between individuals, businesses, and governments. By understanding the importance of data privacy and implementing appropriate measures, organizations can reduce the risk of data breaches, ensure compliance with data protection laws, and maintain customer trust. Ultimately, data privacy is everyone's responsibility, and it begins with awareness and education.