Andrew Leahey

Posts tagged privacy
GDPR Compliant Privacy Policy Template

The GDPR is complex and can have serious ramifications for your business. If you’d like to discuss the GDPR and how it impacts your business, get in contact.

I have written on privacy policies a bit before and covered in some detail the rise of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union (EU) and the various GDPR “loopholes.” It is real, it is here, and any business that may be doing business with a person or entity in the EU needs to comply.

To catch you up, the GDPR is a privacy regulation from the EU that took effect in 2018. It aimed to create a unified data privacy legal framework in the EU and to codify EU resident’s rights to data protection. It broadly applies to people and businesses that interface with EU residents — that is to say, you need not have an office in the EU for the GDPR to apply to you.

What does the GDPR require?

In short, it requires that you have a privacy policy and you abide by that policy. You need to lay out your policy in plain language and make it readily available to anyone you could plausibly collect information from — i.e. visitors to your site, customers on your online store, etc. Your policy should lay out at least the following points:

  • The identity of the data controller and data processor;

  • if you have a data protection officer, the contact information for that officer;

  • for what purpose you are utilizing collected data — legitimate interest;

  • how data is being processed;

  • where consent is required and how it is obtained;

  • data subject rights;

  • any vendors or subsidiaries you share data with and assurances they will comply with the GDPR;

  • whether and where you will transfer data across jurisdictions — especially out of the EU;

  • your data retention policies; and

  • how an individual can request their data be removed.

Generally speaking your GDPR privacy policy will be placed prominently on your website. Best practice now is to request users to read and agree to it using an overlay upon first visiting the site. You should also refer users to it any time they are providing you with new information — e.g. submitting a form, signing up for a mailing list, etc.

Please note, this list is not exhaustive. The GDPR applies in different ways and to different degrees depending on the kind of data collecting and processing you are doing, where you are doing it, and why you are doing it. Simply reading off the above list (or any broad list you find on the internet) and comparing it against your privacy policy is almost certainly not enough.

GDPR Compliant Privacy Policy Template

Download my boilerplate GDPR Compliant Privacy Policy Template (PDF)

Please note, this is a boilerplate — that means it is not tailored at all to your specific needs. It should not be taken and used without thought, nor should sections be lifted from it and used unless you know their meaning and utility. Please get in touch if you want to discuss any of the ramifications for your business.

GDPR and the "Legitimate Interests" Loophole

If you’d like to discuss the GDPR and how it impacts your business, get in contact.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union (EU) regulation outlining new policies for data privacy and protection for individuals within the EU. The regulation's stated aim is to protect a natural person's "fundamental right" of protection in relation to processing of personal data. In sum, the GDPR applies broadly to any entity controlling, collecting or processing data containing personal information regarding a person in the EU -- they need not be a resident of the EU or any member country. "Personal information" is defined broadly as well and includes names, photographs, addresses, email addresses, social media handles and posts and even an IP address. In essence, if you have a web presence or in any way process any data and you aren't explicitly excluding the EU from it, the GDPR applies to you.

However, as broad as the GDPR is, it contains a potential rule-swallowed exception:

The legitimate interests of a controller, including those of a controller to which the personal data may be disclosed, or of a third party, may provide a legal basis for processing, provided that the interests or the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject are not overriding, taking into consideration the reasonable expectations of data subjects based on their relationship with the controller. Such legitimate interest could exist for example where there is a relevant and appropriate relationship between the data subject and the controller in situations such as where the data subject is a client or in the service of the controller. At any rate the existence of a legitimate interest would need careful assessment including whether a data subject can reasonably expect at the time and in the context of the collection of the personal data that processing for that purpose may take place. ... The processing of personal data strictly necessary for the purposes of preventing fraud also constitutes a legitimate interest of the data controller concerned. The processing of personal data for direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for a legitimate interest.

Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (47)

In essence, processing of personal information for a "legitimate interest," as long as it does not explicitly contravene the interests or expectations of the owner of the personal information, is permissible. The regulation explicitly calls out direct marketing as a potential legitimate interest of the data processor (note the "may be regarded" language). 

In addition to direct marketing, the GDPR outlines several more "legitimate interests" for processing, including: processing and transmitting data between affiliated data controllers for internal administrative purposes; processing data to the extent strictly necessary for the purposes of ensuring network and information security; and processing personal data for purposes compatible with those purposes for which the personal data were initially collected. Compatible purposes include archiving, processing for purposes in the public interest, and scientific, historic or statistical research. Additional potential compatible purposes should be evaluated by the data controller by balancing "any link between those purposes and the purposes of the intended further processing; the context in which the personal data have been collected, in particular the reasonable expectations of data subjects based on their relationship with the controller as to their further use; the nature of the personal data; the consequences of the intended further processing for data subjects; and the existence of appropriate safeguards in both the original and intended further processing operations."

In sum, the GDPR is almost certain to upend the balance of power between consumers and corporations the world over. While the GDPR largely does away with the "disclaim game" in privacy policies, its scope is undercut by its exceptions. As businesses scramble to comply by the May 25, 2018 enforceability deadline, time will tell how much of a game changer this latest move by the EU will be. 

Privacy Policies for the Modern Web

Traditionally privacy policies have answered three general questions: (1) what user data is collected, (2) how that data is collected and (3) how that data is stored or used; generally, how that data is treated.  A privacy policy is a simple enough thing to draft when the entity directing the drafting is the sole party acting to collect and store data. In the case of the modern web, however, that is never the case. For the most part even the most basic of websites will utilize some content delivery network (CDN) to serve images and other larger files and embed code to track usage data. CDNs and analytics companies will, then, have access to non-personally identifiable information: internet protocol (IP) addresses, browser, operating system information, and display information, and in the latter case, referrer universal resource locators (URLs). More and more ecommerce sites are taking advantage of third party payment processors, rather than taking payments on-site and taking on the burden of security maintenance and all of the accompanying risk. In short, as more and more services are outsourced, the number of entities gaining access to some form of user information is directly correlated to the complexity of the website. Indeed, with the advent of third-party authentication services such as Facebook Authentication, Google OAuth and LinkedIn OAuth, user data is only becoming more removed from the control of the entity owning and operating even a relatively simple website.[1] This raises questions as to how one can best disclose the answers to the above three questions. 

What User Data is Collected

There are known-knowns, known-unknowns, and unknown-unknowns[2]. The data that is collected by the website owner is a known-known – you either do or do not offer a "Contact Us" form that collects and stores a user's name, email address and their comment. Without further investigation, the information obtained from a user choosing to use Facebook Authentication is a known-unknown – you are aware that user registration and login information is collected by a third party, but you don't know how that information is being stored. Unknown-unknown information is all of that information[3], potentially collected by a third party, that it is difficult or impossible to ascertain the storage and use of. For example, an analytics company that offers free user analytics services may be using the aggregated information in order to improve their other offerings. Their own privacy policies may only obliquely reference what aggregated information is used for and, as such, a privacy policy cannot in good conscience be drafted in a way that makes representations or warranties as to what information is collected by that third party.

How Data is Collected

Methods of collecting data is another area by which the complexity of a website significantly impacts the scope of the privacy concerns. The obvious first level collection schemes are all of those user-driven and user-chosen methods: contact forms, user registration, payment processing, email listserv subscriptions, etc. Second level collection schemes are those that can be ascertained by examining the website and its source – analytics and tracking scripts, calls to offsite-hosted images, cookies, etc. Third level collection schemes, which are the most difficult to know and thus disclose in a policy, are all those methods that are not either user driven or evident in the source of a website. For instance, an examination of the source of a website may indicate that a call is being made to a third party for a tracking script, but the source cannot and will not give guidance as to whether that third party is using data analytics on their own server logs to form a more complete picture of a user, or tracking the user across multiple websites.[4] How information is collected is more difficult to disclose, then, as the owner of the website can realistically only indicate how they think information is collected, what information is collected that they are privy to, and the identities of some of the entities that they have chosen to collect information.   

How Data is Stored or Used  

So-called "Right to be Forgotten" European Union laws aside, if there is one immutable fact about the internet, it is that anything that is on it, remains on it. In the early days of the web, a privacy policy could give users an accurate picture of how long information that is collected about them will remain – a quick call down to IT would be all that was required. In the modern web, a visit to a website is more akin to tossing a stone in to a pond. A rudimentary privacy policy can describe the splash, a well-drafted policy can predict some of the ripples, but no policy will be able to describe the effect on the shoreline. To abandon the metaphor, a privacy policy can be drafted to outline how long the website owner intends to hold on to user information and how long third-party services tied to the website claim to retain user information, but it can never tell a user with an accuracy how long it will be before their visit or use of the site is "forgotten." 


1. To the extent that you can, disclose.

The above may serve to discourage an individual from bothering to draft a policy at all, but this is not the intent. Information privacy was hardly in the public discourse twenty years ago. The first discussions of privacy mostly centered around personal healthy information, later turning to contact information, with the advent of do not call registries, and financial information, as identity theft has become more common. Moving forward, the trend line would appear to point squarely in the direction of privacy becoming more important and more relevant -- the European Union and the State of California have already adopted laws mandating as much.

As such, not surprisingly, the solution to privacy policies lagging behind the increasing complexity of the web is … increased disclosure. To the extent that you know what information is collected, stored and used, disclose it. To the extent that you know what information MIGHT be collected, store and used, disclose it. Where you aren't certain of anything, disclose the entities that you have contracted with to provide services that might be collecting information and link to their privacy policies. Don't work with entities that do not provide privacy policies that at least give some modicum of explanation as to how information is collected, stored and used. 

2. Offer an up to date list.

In your privacy policy, elect a Data Controller and allow users to reach out to them to obtain an updated list of all the companies (third party service providers, mail carriers, hosting services, IT companies, communications companies, analytics companies, advertisers, etc.) that may be processing user data. Maintain the list and, where possible, post it and link to it in your privacy policy.

3. Update your policy frequently.

The privacy policy of a website cannot be thought of as a set-it and forget-it static page -- just as the rest of your website is evolving, so too must your policy. At regular intervals have your policy reviewed and updated to reflect features added or removed from your site, third parties contracted with or released, and changes to third party's policies.

4. Demand more.

Think of yourself as a steward of your user's information. When you choose a new product, contract with a new party, or implement a new feature, call on the entity you are working with to provide you with answers to the aforementioned three questions: what information is collected, how that information is collected, and how that information is used. It is more than just a nice thing to do for your users, it helps ensure that, as privacy becomes more and more of a hot button issue, you remain ahead of the curve and needn't fear having to fix a problem that could have been prevented through good management.


[1] Indeed, to want to make use of a third-party authentication service the website owner need only wish to save user preferences with slightly more granularity and permanence than a traditional "cookie" can provide. The availability of free authentication services through Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, among others, creates a situation where the entities that are seeking the most cost effective and simple method to permit users to have an account on their website are the ones that need to draft the more sophisticated privacy policy.


[3] Generally speaking this will be non-personally identifiable information – IP addresses, regional location data and the like.

[4] The concern being, at some point, a certain order of magnitude of non-personally identifiable information is personally identifiable information – enough individual data points and the number of individuals that fit all of those points eventually drops to one.