How Should Businesses Handle Personal Information?

How Should Businesses Handle Personal Information

Today most consumers spend more time browsing and purchasing online than in the physical world. In an average online journey, they are constantly viewing, sharing, and engaging with various types of content all over the Internet. And with every choice that a consumer makes to click and interact, they leave behind digital footprints. This online data is picked up and analysed by marketers to uncover individual preferences, buying priorities and movements. As a result, digital marketers and other professionals will handle personal information to improve their content and customise products for consumers.

This is only one example where businesses deal with users’ personal information. In fact, your business may be working with customer data day in day out without realising. There are a whole host of business activities such as collecting, accessing, analysing, and storing customer data, which all constitute the handling of personal information. This makes you liable under a range of laws and regulations pertaining to privacy and security, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

So, to help guide your business towards the best data and industry practices, we explore how your business should safely store and handle personal information in three key steps.

What is personal information?

According to UK GDPR, personal data, (or personal information) is:

“Personal data only includes information relating to natural persons who: can be identified or who are identifiable, directly from the information in question; or who can be indirectly identified from that information in combination with other information.”

Therefore, for businesses storing personal data, they can be broken down into different sensitive and less sensitive categories.

Similarly, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is a specific piece of information which can be used to identify one individual.

As mentioned, businesses will encounter and handle various types of critical personal information. This can include identifiers such as:

  • names
  • social security numbers
  • credit card information
  • customer opinions
  • account information
  • location data
  • online identifier (eg, customer IP address)

This list is not exhaustive, so it is imperative that your business is aware of any personal information stored. Additionally, you must put in place guidelines for handling personal information to prevent theft and abuse. Any incident of a security breach involving customer data will not only impact services but irreparably damage your brand.

How should your business handle personal information?

Companies often employ in-house data processing teams or third-party data services to manage the data handling requirements of such personal data. There are three basic steps associated with handling sensitive customer information:

  1. Taking stock of data

Companies need to scrape every digital storage facility, be it computers, servers, or flash drives, and take note of all the sensitive personal information they handle. Additionally, you must identify all the input points of sensitive information. This will allow you to establish concise tracking features and properly catalogue every piece of personal information.

Your business must consider the following key parameters when tracking personal information:

  • Clearly identify and categorise the source of the personal information. Are they retail consumers, credit card companies, pension-holders, or job candidates?
  • Identify the channels through which data flows into the company. Subsequently, the channels should be equipped with proper security features to make it safe from leaks and malware. Some of the typical internal communication channels include emails, chats on official platforms and reports on cloud databases.
  • Ensure strict access protocols to maintain consumer data security. Only the most trusted staff members should be allowed direct access. Access points must have rigorous password protection and data strongly encrypted.
  1. Cutting down on excessive data

There is a myriad of consumer activities conducted over the Internet and personal information associated with it. Companies must identify the appropriate consumer data that are related to their products or services. As such, their data collection tools should only focus on relevant data points.

Maintaining large data sets can be financially draining. So, in reducing the amount of personal information your business handles, you can save on data storage and maintenance costs. Instead, your business can benefit from more efficient data management and reallocate those funds to other areas.

This is also not only necessary in limiting data storage costs but can be a key component of ensuring company compliance. Less personal data stored reduces the risk of data misuse, helping to safeguard your business’ reputation. Plus, by cutting down on the amount of consumer data a company handles, it can effectively cut down on damages in the event of a security breach.

  1. Use the latest data protection tools and practices

Employing the right data security measures involves analysing the nature of information and its storage medium. There are four elements of a secure data security proposal:

  • Physical assurance involves limiting access to company equipment. This could include minimising staff laptop access, as well as keeping file and electronic storage devices under lock and key. You may want to further implement biometric access features to key areas and in-office camera surveillance.
  • Software security requires using the most updated versions of all software platforms along with using the latest anti-malware tools. It also includes network security features such as firewall and digital authentication portals.
  • Employee awareness means providing adequate training to employees in the best practices of data management and cybersecurity protocols.
  • Lastly, companies should have clear guidelines for communication and data transfer with third-parties such as suppliers, contractors and clients. The transfer of critical information such as product specifications to contractors must only be done via official channels and with correct approvals.

At totality services we provide expert consultation and cybersecurity services to help secure your business’ personal data and maintain industry compliance. So, if you would like any further advice on how your business should handle personal information, please reach out to the experts at totality services today.