Published: 10/06/2022

How to protect customer privacy in a digital world

Almost five billion people worldwide use the internet every day. And as the online community grows, more sensitive data is stored on servers, websites, and devices.

Businesses have a responsibility to protect this data. But what does data protection really mean in the digital age? And how can you safeguard your customer data in the face of increasingly sophisticated threats? Find out how to protect customer privacy online with up-to-date security systems and processes.

Why is customer privacy important?

Privacy issues affect both businesses and consumers. Individual victims of a data breach are at risk of identity theft, credit card fraud, false fraud claims, money laundering, and other criminal acts in their name. This causes anxiety for customers, not to mention financial concerns and damaged credit scores.

For businesses, the stakes are also high. If a business is found to be in breach of modern privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), they can be issued with substantial fines:

Privacy protection lawPotential fines
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)Up to $7,500 per violation, with no maximum limit
UK GDPR£17.5 million or 4% of annual global turnover (whichever is higher)
EU GDPR€20 million or 4% of annual global turnover (whichever is higher)

Individuals have the right to prevent unlawful or non-consensual use of their personal information — so from an ethical perspective, protecting customer privacy is the right thing to do.

Privacy law in the US

2018 was a big year for data privacy. Both GDPR and CCPA — two of the most comprehensive data protection acts in the world — came into play. These regulations allow governments to levy large fines against companies that fail to protect consumer data.

California is home to some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including Alphabet and Meta (the parent companies of Google and Facebook respectively). These companies deal with huge volumes of personal data every second, so it follows that California became the first US state to update its privacy regulations for the digital age.

Other states are now following suit. In 2021, both Virginia and Colorado passed their own state privacy laws. Utah has also signed new privacy legislation, which will come into effect in 2023. As of 2022, 17 more states are debating new privacy protection laws.

Even businesses that aren’t currently subject to state consumer privacy laws must prepare. Eventually, every US business will be required to comply with stricter local and federal privacy protection laws.

Top tips for privacy protection

Protect your customers’ data with these cybersecurity tips:

  1. Encrypt your data

Data encryption is essential for protecting customer data. It means that even if attackers steal your data, they’ll be unable to decode and use it. By encrypting your data, you can reduce the impact on customers and the potential legal backlash.

  1. Improve your cybersecurity

Relying on outdated, ineffective security systems puts your customers and business at risk. You need to find alternatives to web application firewalls and human-verification methods, as these are no longer the best ways to protect your data. Implementing an automated security solution can defend your data from more sophisticated threats.

  1. Update your existing systems

Operating systems, WAFs, intrusion prevention systems, and other systems all require regular maintenance and patching to maintain high levels of security. Make sure all your systems and devices are updated as soon as possible to reduce the risk of data theft.

  1. Limit customer data collection

Restricting the data you collect isn’t just good practice. If you’re subject to CCPA or GDPR, it’s the law. Excessive data collection puts customers at risk by requesting unnecessary personally identifiable information online. Ask yourself if you really need to collect a customer’s phone number or address if you don’t intend to use this information.

  1. Put someone in charge — but hold everyone accountable

You need somebody to take charge of data protection and cybersecurity at your company. This person will ultimately be responsible for enforcing your information security policies and procedures. However, everyone in your organization needs to understand how to protect customer information.

  1. Limit data access

You should only allow specific people to access the data you store. Access should be given on a case-by-case basis. This relates to data stored in your devices, servers, and API. Leaky APIs can easily overexpose data, so make sure you know how to secure your API.

  1. Only use trusted suppliers with strong security practices

Your suppliers should treat customer data with the same care and attention you do. Carry out due diligence on all potential suppliers, conducting thorough audits to check they have proper security measures in place.

  1. Check your physical security

Despite the name, cloud-based content management systems don’t store data in an abstract intangible place. Data is stored on physical devices in physical data centers. That means you and your suppliers need physical security measures to protect customer data, too.

Privacy protection on websites, email, and social media

It’s essential to use appropriate data protection practices for different online formats.

You’re expected to have a robust privacy policy and cookie policy on your website. As a minimum, this should outline:

  • How and why you’re collecting user data
  • What data you collect
  • How you will use this data.

You should avoid sending sensitive data via email, in case the recipient’s email address has been compromised, or your emails are being intercepted. Your security team should set up alternative ways for you to send sensitive or personal information. For the same reason, you should also avoid posting or asking for sensitive information over social media.

How to stay compliant with privacy laws and regulations

Privacy regulations may seem complex, but the principles are simple. They’re designed to give customers complete control over how their personal data is used. If you store or process personal data, you need to ensure you’re protecting the information with robust security measures.

By being transparent about the data you collect — including why you’re collecting it, and how you plan to use this data — you can earn customer trust and stay compliant with local privacy laws.

But customer privacy protection isn’t the only reason you need comprehensive cybersecurity. Learn more about why your business needs bot mitigation to combat all kinds of cyber threats.

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