With mere days left till the dreaded General Data Protection Regulation comes into force, many companies, especially those not based in the EU, still haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it. As we mentioned countless times earlier, the upcoming GDPR will profoundly change the way companies collect, store and process personal data of any EU resident. What is understood as personal data and what is considered processing is very broad and is only considered legal if it meets a number of very strict criteria. Fines for non-compliance are massive – up to 20 million Euro or 4% of a company’s annual turnover, whichever is higher.
Needless to say, not many companies feel happy about massive investments they’d need to make into their IT infrastructures, as well as other costs (consulting, legal and even PR-related) of compliance. And while European businesses don’t really have any other options, quite a few companies based outside of the EU are considering pulling out of the European market completely. A number of them even made their decision public, although we could safely assume that most would rather keep the matters quiet.
However, before you even start looking for other similar solutions, consider one point: the GDPR protects the EU subjects’ privacy regardless of their geographic location. A German citizen staying in the US and using a US-based service is, at least in theory, supposed to have the same control over their PII as back home. And even without traveling, an IP blacklist can be easily circumvented using readily available tools like VPN. Trust me, Germans know how to use them – as until recently, the majority of YouTube videos were not available in Germany because of a copyright dispute, so a VPN was needed to enjoy “Gangnam style” or any other musical hit of the time.
On the other hand, thinking that the EU intends to track every tiniest privacy violation worldwide and then drag every offender to the court is ridiculous; just consider the huge resources the European bureaucrats would need to put into a campaign of that scale. In reality, their first targets will undoubtedly be the likes of Facebook and Google – large companies whose business is built upon collecting and reselling their users’ personal data to third parties. So, unless your business is in the same market as Cambridge Analytica, you should probably reconsider the idea of blocking out European visitors – after all, you’d miss nearly 750 million potential customers from the world’s largest economy.
Finally, the biggest mistake many companies make is to think that GDPR’s sole purpose is to somehow make their lives more miserable and to punish them with unnecessary fines. However, like any other compliance regulation, GDPR is above all a comprehensive set of IT security, data protection and legal best practices. Complying with GDPR - even if you don’t plan to do business in the EU market - is thus a great exercise that can prepare your business for some of the most difficult challenges of the Digital Age. Maybe in the same sense as a volcano eruption is a great test of your running skills, but running exercises are still quite useful even if you do not live in Hawaii.