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How Europe's Data Privacy Regulations Will Affect U.S. Businesses

Business.com / Last Modified: February 14, 2018
Photo credit: Wlad74/Shutterstock

The EU's General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, will set new benchmarks for consumer data privacy and, among other things, present a fantastic opportunity for U.S. companies to gain a hefty competitive advantage.

If you're an avid follower of the global news scene, then you're likely aware of the growing conversation around the GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation, that looks to bring a paradigm shift in the world of European (and world) data security. The digital market has been moving quickly for a long time now, and security has always been the major concern when it comes to user data. To regulate data collection and security of the personal information of European Union citizens, the idea of GDPR was floated and, after several years of fine-tuning, has now officially been signed into law. GDPR will be enforced beginning May 2018 (mark your calendars!).

The GDPR will bring about some serious changes in data privacy and will affect anyone who is present in the EU, along with any company that handles the data of EU consumers, which would include companies across the world, including the U.S. The objective is to give control back to the people and to ensure that everyone has the right to consent to the use of data, to be forgotten, and to limit the use of data and seek damages (in case a data breach or misuse occurs).

It's natural to think, "Okay, multinationals that carry out business within the EU have some things to sort out, but I don't have any business in any of the 28 EU member nations, so I don’t have to worry about anything, right?"

Well, no. If your company has an online presence, a website that can be accessed by any person in the world (which you more than likely do), then you need to be very aware of what's going on with GDPR. 

I would tell you not to start worrying immediately, but you should be knowledgeable on the subject so you can prepare yourself and your business. Gartner predicts that almost 50 percent of U.S. businesses will not be able to comply with GDPR in time, so it's vital that you get your thinking hats on.

How exactly will U.S. companies be affected?

I know what's going through your mind right now: You want to know exactly how GDPR can and will affect your business, and what you need to do to prepare. While every business, industry, and market is different and a complete guide to GDPR for your company would be impossible to provide without knowing more about your situation, it is possible to give a bird's-eye view of GDPR's impact on U.S. business as a whole, and what organizations stateside need to understand in general.

Here are some key points that a U.S. business owner should have in their mind regarding GDPR:

1.    Consent

GDPR stresses consent above all else. In fact, that's really the entire point. While obtaining data, consent needs to be explicit, crystal clear and corroborative. According to Article 4 of GDPR, consent is defined as: "Any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of his or her wishes by which the data subject, either by statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to personal data relating to them being processed."

In addition, while dealing with data of children under 16, parental consent is necessary. Moreover, citizens of the EU can have their personal data erased if the company doesn't require it for the initial purpose of collection anymore.                                                                            

2.    Notification of data breach

If a data breach occurs, the supervisory authority needs to be informed within 72 hours of the happening. If the privacy of any EU citizens is at risk, they need to be notified as well. Starting this May, you'll need to be vigilant and acutely aware of any actual or potential data breaches that may impact customers or individuals located in the EU. 

3.    Right to be forgotten

Pursuant to Article 17 of GDPR, every individual reserves the right to ask for the deletion of their personal data in situations when the data is no longer required: " ... in relation to the purposes for which it was initially collected or otherwise processed." 

With this in mind, be prepared for any customers you might have in the EU to request that you remove any information you have stored pertaining to them.

Turn GDPR to your advantage

GDPR will set new benchmarks for consumer data privacy and, among other things, present a fantastic opportunity for U.S. companies to gain a hefty competitive advantage by achieving compliance as soon as possible. 

Customers like to be associated with companies that care about them and take their privacy and security seriously. What better way to make them feel cared for than by prioritizing their privacy interests over everything else?

As soon as GDPR becomes common knowledge, customers will be bound to prefer GDPR-compliant companies over the rest, which is why you can't let your competition get a vital headstart. Otherwise, you're vulnerable to GDPR-compliance legal headaches down the road.

Embrace GDPR; it's good news for customers, and, if you take the proper steps to prepare and comply, it can provide an opportunity for growing your business as well!

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