Data Privacy Definition

People give away their personal data every day. Data privacy laws protect people by requiring organisations to keep their data safe and avoid sharing it unethically with third parties. Some laws—such as the U.S. Data Privacy Protection Law and the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—go even further. Organisations are often required to notify users when there’s a data breach and tell users exactly how their data is used and collected.

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Why Is Data Privacy Important?

Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that can be used to identify an individual or corporate customer, such as:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social security or tax ID number
  • Credit card data
  • Date of birth

Unprotected data is often stolen and misused for identity theft and fraudulent activity. That’s why organisations that collect PII must store it ethically and safely. They must also carefully set rules around who’s authorised to access and share it. Consumer data privacy regulations require companies to do all this. They define how private data may be collected and shared. And they outline penalties for not following the law. Organisations that are not compliant can face hefty fines.

Data privacy is a critical aspect of any organisation that collects, stores or manages information, whether it be customer data or business information. It holds significant importance for many reasons, including:

  • Protecting Personal Information: Data privacy helps individuals control what information they choose to keep personal and prevents their personal information from being used or shared without their consent. This helps protect individuals from identity theft, fraud, or other cybercrimes.
  • Maintaining Trust: Data privacy is crucial for establishing trust between individuals and organisations. Organisations prioritising data privacy and demonstrating their commitment to protecting personal information develop a reputation for reliability and integrity. This helps cultivate a sense of consumer confidence, thereby establishing stronger relationships and long-term loyalty.
  • Complying with Regulations: Data privacy is regulated by various laws and regulations, such as the GDPR in the European Union and the General Personal Data Protection Law in Brazil. Organisations must comply with all data privacy regulations pertaining to the regions where they conduct business to avoid legal and financial penalties.
  • Preserving Autonomy: Data privacy empowers individuals to know how their data is being used, by whom and why, giving them control over how their personal data is being processed and used. This helps preserve individual autonomy.
  • Protecting Business Information: The information that enables a company to operate and compete in the market is also an area of concern for data privacy. This includes proprietary research, intellectual property, trade secrets, or financial information. Maintaining the privacy of company information, employee data, and information shared with customers and clients is essential.

Data privacy rules often require organisations to tell users how their data will be shared and collected. This helps users make an informed decision about whether they want to hand it over. Some compliance regulations, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), require organisations to remove data from their systems when a consumer asks.

Data security and privacy work together to protect consumers. Data security governs the tools and procedures that allow access to data. In contrast, data privacy defines which data is important and why it is sensitive. Without data privacy, a person’s data could be sold to a third party without consent from the data’s owner. Compliance regulations require organisations to give users some legal rights to their own data and some control over how third parties can use it.

Data Privacy Tips

Data privacy is a growing concern as more and more information is digitised and stored in the cloud. This runs parallel with the increasing threat landscape and sophistication of attacks. Using the latest tips and best practices to protect your data is essential.

  • Strong Password Policies: Organisations and individuals alike should employ policies that require strong, unique passwords for each account, along with frequent password updates.
  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA): Enable MFA wherever possible. In addition to a password, this requires a second step, usually involving a code sent to your phone or email to access an account.
  • Regular Software Updates: Ensure your operating systems, applications, and devices are always updated. These updates often contain patches for known vulnerabilities.
  • Avoid Public Wi-Fi for Sensitive Tasks: Public Wi-Fi networks are typically less secure. Avoid accessing personal accounts or conducting sensitive operations on them, especially for remote employees.
  • Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): A VPN encrypts your internet connection, making it harder for hackers to intercept your data. Use VPNs, especially when accessing sensitive information.
  • Secure Devices: Use PINs, biometrics (like fingerprints), or strong passwords to lock your smartphones, tablets, and computers.
  • Educate and Train: Organisations should train their employees about data privacy best practices and security awareness protocols and maintain a clear data privacy policy.
  • Be Wary of Social Engineering Attacks: Remain vigilant about phishing attacks and always verify the identity of individuals or institutions requesting personal information. Be cautious with email links and attachments from unknown sources.
  • Encrypt Sensitive Data: Use encryption tools to protect sensitive data stored on your devices or transmitted online.
  • Regular Backups: Regularly back up your data to secure locations, like encrypted external hard drives or trusted cloud services.
  • Limit Personal Information Sharing Online: Avoid oversharing on social media and other platforms. Cybercriminals can piece together information for identity theft.
  • Check Privacy Settings: Regularly review the privacy settings on your social media accounts, online services, and devices. Adjust settings to limit the amount of personal data shared.
  • Regularly Audit and Monitor Access: Organisations should regularly audit who has access to sensitive data and ensure access is limited to necessary personnel.
  • Incident Response Plan: Have a clear plan in place for data breaches that includes communication, technical responses, and legal considerations.

By adopting these best practices, individuals and organisations can proactively safeguard their data and mitigate risks.

Challenges of Data Privacy

Given the rapidly evolving threat landscape and regulatory environment, organisations face ongoing challenges concerning data privacy, including:

  • Implementing data privacy policies into organizational processes and keeping track of different regulations can be a challenging undertaking.
  • Lack of awareness and inconsistent policies make it difficult for organizations to comply with data privacy regulations.
  • The proliferation of devices and the increasing amount of personal data collected make it difficult to maintain data privacy standards.
  • Data protection and privacy regulations are becoming increasingly complex and convoluted. The need to comply with different jurisdictions can be resource-intensive for organisations.
  • Rapid technological advancements can create new challenges and requirements in privacy and data protection.
  • Poor security practices and human error can put organisations at risk of a data breach.
  • The overall cost of maintaining data privacy can be high.

By understanding these challenges, individuals and businesses can take steps to address them and better protect sensitive information.

Data Privacy vs. Data Security

Although data privacy and data security work together, they are two entirely different practices.

Data privacy is all about trust. Customers need to trust organisations if they’re going to hand over their private data. Organisations that want consumers to trust them must take data privacy seriously. They do this by making it a primary focus of their approach to customer service and data management. The stakes are high. After a data breach, loss of trust is often the biggest reason that organisations lose revenue. When customers lose trust in an organisation, they take their business elsewhere.

Data privacy is a concept, while data security is all about action. It takes a lot of technology and IT team effort to keep data secure. Data security is a combination of procedures, tools, software, auditing and monitoring—all working together. It’s important to keep all these actions private so that threat actors don’t know the best way to attack. In contrast, data privacy assumes a level of transparency. Organisations need to tell people how they’re keeping their data safe—because openness builds trust. Fundamentally, there’s a tension between data privacy and data security.

Here are some key differences:

Data Privacy

  • Data privacy focuses on the proper handling, collection, retention, deletion, and storage of data.
  • It is about ensuring that individuals have control over their personal information and how it is used, accessed, or shared.
  • Data privacy is concerned with protecting the confidentiality and appropriate use of personal data, giving individuals the right to determine how their data is processed.
  • It involves compliance with privacy regulations and respecting individuals’ privacy preferences.


Data Security

  • Data security, on the other hand, is about protecting data from unauthorised access, use, disclosure, alteration, or destruction.
  • Data security involves the actions used to preserve data privacy, such as procedures, tools, software, authorisation, auditing, and user information monitoring.
  • It involves implementing policies, methods, and other means to secure personal data and prevent security breaches or unauthorised access to sensitive information.
  • Data security focuses on protecting the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of data.
  • It includes measures such as encryption, access controls, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other security technologies.


In short, data privacy requires data security, but data security does not always mean that data privacy is a concern for the organisation.

While data privacy and data security are distinct, they are closely related and often work together to protect sensitive information. Data privacy ensures that personal data is handled appropriately, while data security provides the technical and operational safeguards to protect that data from unauthorised access or misuse.

Compliance is also a key part of data privacy and security. Compliance laws often lay out how organisations should protect data. For example, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) requires an audit trail for every time someone asks to access patient data. If an organisation doesn’t have an audit trail, there are hefty fines. Another example is GDPR. This law says that organisations must have the tools to remove data from their system whenever a user asks.

Data Protection Rights

A user’s rights are frequently based on where they live. GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are good examples of how data rights are based on location. Data rights are also based on the kind data being stored. With HIPAA, for example, patients have rights regarding their healthcare data. HIPAA also includes healthcare cybersecurity standards, which tell hospitals and other organisations how to safely store and collect patient data.

All data privacy laws aim for similar goals. Here are some examples:

  • User consent: Data privacy laws ensure that users are asked for their consent before anyone shares their data with a third party.
  • Legal repercussions: Regulations lay out what happens to organisations that don’t handle data according to the law.
  • User rights: Users have specific rights and ways to exercise these rights. For example, some laws say users must be able to ask for their personal data to be removed using specific communication channels.
  • User interests: Data privacy is in the consumer’s best interest. Organisations are responsible for respecting and preserving this interest.
  • Right to data portability: Individuals can ask to receive their data in a universally accepted, machine-friendly format and pass it onto another data handler.
  • Right to object: In specific cases, such as direct marketing, individuals can oppose the use of their personal data.
  • Right not to be subject to automated decision making: Individuals reserve the right to be exempt from decisions solely dictated by automated systems or profiling that may have substantial implications for them.

Awareness of these rights means individuals can more adeptly manage their data, ensuring its proper utilisation. Establishments must respect these entitlements to avert legal repercussions and monetary liabilities.

Important Data Privacy Laws

No single law oversees data privacy. Instead, there are multiple laws that govern data privacy based on its type, the user’s location and other criteria.

Here are a few of the most common data privacy laws:

  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): CCPA went into effect on January 1, 2020. It oversees how businesses handle California residents’ data. CCPA requires users to be informed about how their data is collected and used. And it allows users to access and remove their data from corporate systems.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): HIPAA is a federal law that defines how patient data must be stored, secured, shared, transferred and audited. Mainly, it affects healthcare providers and hospitals. But even e-commerce stores that handle patient data must apply HIPAA rules to their security controls.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): COPPA is an older law enacted in 2000 that aims to protect children under the age of 12. It defines how businesses can collect and share their data. Businesses must protect children’s screen names, email addresses, chat names, photos, audio files and location.
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS): PCI-DSS aims to protect consumers’ payment data to prevent fraud and identity theft. It must be followed by any company that stores consumer financial and credit card data, including large and small organisations and online stores.

The data privacy laws above are all federal regulations, except CCPA. But California isn’t the only U.S. state that has privacy laws. New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and North Dakota all have laws that regulate how state residents’ data is stored and shared. For example, the New York SHIELD Act aims to enforce stronger cybersecurity requirements on companies that store New York resident data.

International Data Privacy

When organisations work with data from residents of the European Union (EU), there’s additional overhead. While two primary privacy laws are the main concerns for U.S. companies, the following two privacy regulations concern EU resident data:

  • The Cookie Law: Cookies are small files stored on a user’s device to save website information. If a device is stolen, this information could be sent to third parties or disclosed. The Cookie Law requires user consent before a website can store a cookie on their device.
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): GDPR is one of the strictest data privacy laws that governs EU resident data. Fines and penalties for violating GDPR can are often in the millions. GDPR oversees data privacy, data security, accountability for organisations, and the penalties for violations. Organisations that store EU consumer data must ensure that they publish how user data is stored, shared and collected. And they must offer an easy way for users to request their data be removed from corporate systems.

How Proofpoint Can Help

Proofpoint helps organisations protect their data while complying with data privacy regulations. Proofpoint provides a range of solutions to meet these critical needs, including:

  • Information Protection Solutions: Proofpoint Information Protection solutions can help organisations audit and discover data, create a strategy that follows GDPR and other compliance regulations, and protect data from theft or destruction.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Proofpoint’s DLP capabilities help organisations identify and analyse sensitive data unique to their organisation. It enables the detection of data exfiltration transmissions and automates regulatory compliance.
  • Threat Intelligence: Proofpoint leverages its Nexus threat graph and combines threat intelligence across email, cloud, and other telemetry to help organisations respond quickly to data exfiltration incidents.
  • Email Protection: Proofpoint’s Email Protection solution helps protect organisations from ongoing threats by analysing collected data and applying the results to enhance security.
  • Security Awareness Training: Proofpoint offers Security Awareness Training to help organisations educate their employees about data protection best practices, proactively identify potentially negligent users, and transform employees into effective data defenders.
  • Compliance and Archiving Solutions: Proofpoint offers Intelligent Compliance and Archiving solutions that make it easier for organisations to make more informed compliance decisions, manage information risk, and improve investigation readiness.

By providing these solutions, Proofpoint helps organisations comply with data privacy regulations, protect sensitive data, and maintain the trust of their customers.

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