Need a Foolproof Privacy Compliance Strategy? Start Here

Privacy compliance is non-negotiable for any business handling and processing customer data. If you don’t have an established and well-executed compliance plan, you’re potentially putting your company at major risk. 

In 2021, European Union data protection authorities handed out a total of $1.25 billion in fines for privacy breaches. But the consequences of lax customer data handling go beyond hefty fines to reputation damage, business disruption, and even legal action. In fact, researchers say the cost of a data breach at a single company averages over $4 million.

At ZoomInfo, our commitment to data privacy and accuracy doesn’t stop with us. Data privacy is a huge part of our business model and our customers rely on our compliance because it affects them. Even if you’re working with a trusted data partner, each company needs its own informed privacy compliance strategy. 

What is Privacy Compliance? 

Privacy compliance is respecting and acting in accordance with data privacy legislation, regulation, and general best practices. There are a number of existing data privacy laws, like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and new laws being developed across the US to further protect consumers. 

How do You Achieve Privacy Compliance? 

Compliance starts with a deep understanding of what privacy laws require and how they affect your business. While privacy compliance strategies can vary, you should consider the following four factors: 

  1. Policy: what your company says it will do
  2. Process: how you’re going to do it
  3. Power: why you must do it — for example, privacy laws
  4. Proof: evidence that you’re doing it with thorough documentation

For more terminology, check out our data privacy glossary

Here are a few more things to consider for achieving a best-in-class privacy compliance plan.

Create a Compliance Team

The first and most important step is to create a compliance team to craft your privacy policy, as well as oversee compliance and privacy-related objectives. While they aren’t the only team involved — HR, IT, and legal teams will also play a role — they will be responsible for directing and maintaining compliance. 

Set up your team with company size and risk in mind. Think about headcount, what type and how much data you process, and how heavily your organization relies on that data. Do you operate outside of the country? Do you have remote teammates? These are all things to consider when setting up your team. 

The compliance team will establish guidelines, run health checks, conduct ongoing research, and provide updates to ensure compliance is being met. They will need a direct line of communication to the CEO and board of directors so any problems can be swiftly reported and addressed. 

Run a Privacy Compliance Audit

A review of your company’s adherence to privacy protection policies and guidelines is the next order of business. This audit can be performed by your compliance team or a third party, depending on the scope of risk facing your organization. 

A privacy compliance audit will look at the following:

  1. The types of data you collect
  2. How data is collected
  3. How data is used
  4. Where the data is stored
  5. If the data is stored safely
  6. How long data is kept
  7. How you work with third parties involving data
  8. How you inform customers about your data collection and usage

These audits should happen regularly. Use the results of your first audit to create benchmark data and track your improvement. Be sure to establish an appropriate compliance budget.

Once you have the results of the privacy compliance audit, you’ll have a better idea of where your weaknesses lie. With this understanding, you can draft a plan of action. Begin with the five biggest areas of risk and set objectives and timelines for each area. 

Enforce an Internal Privacy Policy

Creating an internal privacy policy is imperative to keeping your customers’ information safe, especially if your organization deals with sensitive data. The policy should set guidelines for how to handle customer information, internet use guidelines, email best practices, strong password requirements, system access permissions, how to report security breaches, and consequences for violating the policy. 

Hold data management and security training sessions to ensure that everyone is aware of the importance of data compliance. Make sure every employee understands and signs the privacy policy. Additionally, confirm who has access to different types of data and limit employee access to only what’s necessary. This will reduce the risk associated with human error.

Establish Data Governance

Data governance takes compliance a step further and codifies how your company will treat and use the data you collect. Your organization’s decisions and processes around data handling should be auditable, transparent, and documented.

Good data governance benefits your organization by ensuring uniform data to gain better insights and establishing best practices to improve business processes.

Make Sure Your External Privacy Policy is Complete and Accurate

An external privacy policy states clearly for customers and prospects how your company handles personal data. This statement is required in many countries. Here are the most basic elements that an external privacy policy should include: 

  • The information that your business collects, such as first and last name, email, phone number, and anything else your company handles 
  • How data is gathered, stored, protected and used
  • Who has access to this information, including third parties
  • Your organization’s use of cookies

When crafting your privacy policy, create a detailed and accurate statement of how personal data is handled at your organization. You can face fines for incorrect information. Look at examples of privacy policies from around the web, but don’t copy and paste a statement from another site. Make sure that your policy clearly states your company’s actions.

Invest in Products to Improve Compliance

Data compliance management isn’t an easy task, but you can purchase tools to improve data compliance. Simon McDougall, ZoomInfo’s chief compliance officer, suggests looking for tools that automate processes and eliminate human error, like data mapping services and consent managers. 

Unfortunately, compliance tech is not a complete solution for most businesses today. But substantial privacy knowledge, research, and compliance technologies will set you and your organization up for success.

Data privacy can be costly, but if you take the necessary steps to safeguard your data and invest in your compliance strategy, it’ll be worth it. For more information on navigating the world of data privacy, check out our guide on how privacy regulations apply to your business.