Around Halloween, data and customer privacy aren’t really at the forefront of anyone’s mind. We’re all too focused on the spooky decorations and scary stories coming out of the woodwork. But as any fan of the strange, dark, and mysterious will tell you, the scariest stories are the ones that hit closest to home. A cheesy ghost story might be forgotten in an hour. Meanwhile, a story about something that can easily happen—or worse, something that has actually happened—might linger in the back of your mind for days or weeks.
How does data privacy play into this? There’s no horror movie about the people affected by the Equifax leak, after all. But that doesn’t make the possibility any less frightening. For many individuals, data breaches lead to a truly nightmarish situation that can lead to bankruptcy, doxing, damaged reputations, and more. And the effects don’t stop with individual people. Any business that accidentally leaked customer data can find itself the target of lawsuits, crippling fines, and more, depending on the extent of damage that the victims suffered. What can you expect if the business happens to be yours?
Following a data breach, your company will almost certainly be sued. But it’s not just your business that might deal with a lawsuit. For companies with customers in Massachusetts, individual business owners or managers can also be held legally liable for damages caused. This goes beyond your business struggling to recover following a lawsuit—and future privacy laws may incorporate similar principles. If the court pursues you personally, the ensuing legal battle could bankrupt you.
Fines & Penalties
Anyone even remotely familiar with privacy laws knows that they mean business. GDPR enforcement fines alone increased substantially in the last couple years. Some of the highest privacy violation fines in recent memory include:
- Nearly $400K from Instagram for children’s privacy issues
- $115K from Meta following discovery of an ad campaign based on protected private data
- $1.5 million from WW International (formerly known as Weight Watchers) following illegal collection and processing of young children’s data
- A whopping $730 million from Amazon following GDPR violations, the current record for the highest fine levied under the GDPR
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. EnforcementTracker.com keeps a running tally of all GDPR fines, big and small. While it’s difficult to predict the exact amount of fines ahead of time, they can easily wipe out your profit margin or even drive your company to bankruptcy.
As a business owner trying to navigate a legal battle, it’s easy to forget that data breaches affect individual customers. Thieves can get hold of leaked financial information and drain someone’s bank account. Private medical records that suddenly go public can lead to people losing their jobs due to their health requirements. Every impacted individual has a story.
Between very public legal battles, massive fines, and countless customer complaints, your company’s reputation will take a hit. And unfortunately, the internet never forgets. Googling “Equifax” pulls up multiple results directly related to the data breach on the first page of Google. Even four years after the incident, it’s still fresh in many people’s minds.
How to Survive a Scary Movie
So, when you’re living your own personal scary movie, how can you come out unscathed? Think about what characters tend to survive these kinds of stories. Anyone who knows not to go near the spooky haunted mansion, or at least to bring in holy water and a crucifix, will probably be fine. In other words: characters who prepare ahead of time.
Your company can prepare ahead of time by knowing and adhering to privacy laws to avoid mishandling customer data. The more careful you are with people’s private information, the less likely you are to suffer a data breach and all the consequences that come along with it. With 4Comply, you can easily sort customer data based on applicable laws and tell at a glance how you’re allowed to use it. A built-in consent management system ensures you will know which customers you’re allowed to contact, and which ones you aren’t. You won’t have to worry about accidentally incurring the wrath of privacy authorities. This Halloween, data management should be your highest priority.