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Ambulance chasers are readying themselves for GDPR assault

post-it sur fond bois : GDPR

While getting a firm ready for the introduction of GDPR was a frantic period, the last 12 months have been relatively quiet period for the rules. However that might all be about to change.

At the European Data Protection Summit in London, a few points were raised which should put the fear back into executives. It does appear the ‘sex appeal’ of data protection and privacy has been eroded, but just wait until the summer is over. It might well be dominating the headlines again.

There seem to be four developments bubbling away at the moment, each of which could have a significant impact on the data protection and privacy landscape; Brexit, the UK’s 2018 Data Protection Act and ambulance chasers.

Ditching PPI for GDPR

Although it is not necessarily the most flattering of terms, the ambulance chasers are readying themselves for an assault on the GDPR negligent.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has set a deadline of August 29 for consumers to complain about the sale of PPI products in the UK. This effectively means all the firms set-up to manage the complaints on behalf of consumers will become redundant. Most will evolve however, the legal world is simply too profitable, and GDPR seems a prime opportunity.

While it might not be the most common practice for the moment, there are certainly examples. Numerous law firms, Hayes Connor Solicitors for example, are already advertising their services for the British Airways data breach, impacting roughly 400,000 people. This is an on-going investigation, though the financial penalty for this breach could be as much as €918 million.

As more PPI lawyers find themselves at the mercy of free time, more will turn their attentions to new fields of expertise. Due to the headline-worth nature of data breaches and privacy violations, as well as the potential consequence to the individual, this is an area which is primed for the legal buzz.

Big fines have been promised

So far, there is only one example of a Data Protection Authority (DPA) swinging the heavy stick of GDPR at a major firm. France’s watchdog fined Google €50 million for numerous offenses, and while there have been other significant breaches over the last few years, most occurred at a time prior to the heavy fines of GDPR.

“Serious fines are coming in the summer, including to some of the big companies,” said Paul Breitbarth, Director of Strategic Research and Regulator Outreach at Nymity. “The DPAs [Data Protection Authorities] are taking this very seriously and so should we.”

The Irish DPA is an example of one regulator taking control of the situation, and quite rightly so. Despite the fact its economy is heavily reliant on the internet giants, the Irish watchdog is Europe’s lead GDPR authority; it should be leading the charge.

In a recent PR defence plea, Commissioner for Data Protection Helen Dixon pointed out the authority has already opened 54 investigation, 19 of which were cross border. According to Breitbarth, we should expect some pretty heavy fines which will also bring data protection and privacy back into public debate.

One of the big challenges being faced by the industry is apathy from the general public and any considered concern from executives. Enforcement of GDPR rules will not only highlight the potential risks to the general public, but also make data protection and privacy a priority for those running the firms.

Executives might want to ignore data protection and privacy, but one way to get the attention is to hit them in their wallets. Both the enforcement of GDPR and the emergence of ambulance chasers will ensure this is a topic of conversation in the board rooms.

New rules, new considerations

The 2018 Data Protection Act is something which has not really generated many headlines, but there is a monumental opportunity for headaches.

“It’s a bit of a minefield to go through,” said Ian Evans, MD of OneTrust.

The Data Protection Act is the UK’s own version of GDPR, required due to the fact we are divorcing the European Union, but it does actually go a lot further than the European rules. This is perhaps worst-case scenario for those wanting to remain compliant, as it creates more work ensuring compliance to two different sets of rules.

New clauses have been introduced creating new grey areas when it comes to confidentiality agreements, while the approach in the immigration department has received criticism. Those who are seeking official residential status in the UK will not be able to force the government into providing insight into the data which has been collected, analysed and actioned. This is the first time a data moat has been embedded into law, and there are come people who are not happy about it.

One area which is very useful is the standardization of usecases. In four areas, the ICO will effectively produce standards to ensure companies can remain compliant. This is the first time an authority has taken such an approach, and we hope it will be replicated by other authorities. The first example, ‘Age-appropriate design’, will be released in the coming weeks.

The groans of Brexit

Brexit is a tricky topic to bring up. People either disagree with it, hate it or are bored of it, but the matter of the fact is, it is crucially important in numerous areas.

Brexit changes the status quo. The UK will no-longer be in the European Union, therefore fundamentally changing the relationship companies have with governments, customers and supply chains.

With the Brexit deadline fast approaching, and little concrete information being offered, the risk is running quite high. This will have to be a major factor in any companies approach to data protection and privacy moving forward.

The risk of a boring conversation

“Everyone is saying they are trying more for data protection, but does anyone actually believe it,” said Ian West, COO of the GDPR Institut.

GDPR was critically important when it was introduced, and it remains critically important today. However, you have to question whether the organizations involved, or the general public, are actually taking it seriously. The last 12 months has seen GDPR fall down the agenda, though it will rise again.

Enforcement is key, and it is coming. GDPR investigations are painfully slow processes due to the vast amount of information and the complexities of the business models in the data-sharing economy. However, many investigations will be finalised over the next few months. With these final decisions come the fines.

This will propel data protection and privacy back into the public debate, and ensure the general public is becoming more aware to the dangers of the digital world.

There is currently a risk of negligence, but soon enough data protection and privacy principles will form part of the buying decision-making process. The companies which are taking data protection and privacy seriously, will become more appealing to those customers, both consumer and enterprise.

Another factor to consider is recruitment. More graduates nowadays want to work for ethically sound organizations, and soon enough this definition will be expanded to include data protection and privacy principles.

GDPR is a topic which is not ‘sexy’ at the moment, but the next couple of months could ensure these conversations are firmly set back into the board room. The question is whether these will be fleeting, defensive discussions, or whether these executives will take the challenge seriously and create a culture which encourages data protection and privacy principles.


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