The Distinction: Data Privacy versus Protection

In a nutshell, data protection is about securing data against unauthorized access. Data privacy is about authorized access — who has it and who defines it. Another way to look at it is this: data protection is essentially a technical issue, whereas data privacy is a legal one.

These distinctions matter because they’re woven deeply into the overarching issues of privacy and cybersecurity, both of which loom large in businesses, politics and culture. For industries subject to compliance standards, there are crucial legal implications associated with privacy laws. And ensuring data protection may not adhere to every required compliance standard.

When Words Matter

Just to make things more complicated, according to the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), the laws and regulations that cover “the management of personal information” are typically grouped under “privacy policy” in the United States and under “protection policy” in the EU and elsewhere. 

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a supervisory authority that will go into effect May 25, 2018, requires businesses to protect the “personal data and privacy of EU citizens for transactions that occur within the EU.” However, the GDPR’s data protection law has a much different view of personal identification information than the US. GDPR compliance requires that companies use the same level of data protection for cookies as they do for stored personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers.

Data Privacy and Security: One Doesn’t Ensure the Other

What’s important to understand when comparing data privacy vs. data protection is that you can’t ensure data privacy unless the personal data is protected by technology. If someone can steal personal data, its privacy is not guaranteed, which puts you at risk for identity theft and other personal security breaches. But the opposite relationship isn’t always true: personal data can be protected while still not being reliably private.

How? When you swipe your credit card for a service provider, you’re doing two things. First of all, you’re trusting the service provider and payment system with your personal data protection — to make sure, among other things, shady cybercriminals and other third parties can’t access your credit information without your consent. But you’re also trusting them to honor your data privacy by not misusing the information even though you provided it to them.

The point is technology alone cannot ensure the privacy of personal data. Most privacy protection protocols are still vulnerable to authorized individuals who might access the data. The burden on these authorized individuals is, above all, about privacy law, not technology.