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personally identifiable information

AI and Personally Identifiable Information: How to Remain Compliant with GDPR Regulations

As more and more business is conducted online, the importance of personally identifiable information (PII) increases every day. PII is used for customer retention, tracking client trends, and much more.

The value of personally identifiable information is also apparent to negative actors like identity thieves and hackers. A company that leaks PII suffers negative publicity to be sure, but can also face a loss of customer confidence and legal ramifications from regulatory bodies.

Regulatory laws worldwide

Because PII has become so important, protecting it is a huge priority for governments around the world. Each state in the US has its own regulatory laws, with the California Consumer Privacy Act widely regarded as the most stringent personally identifiable information policy.

In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) covers a business’s responsibilities in regard to PII.

PII and the GDPR

When examining the reason laws like the GDPR are necessary, we need to have an understanding of the personally identifiable information definition that led to the creation of PII regulations.

One of the reasons PII is so important is because the answer to the question “what is personally identifiable information?” covers a lot of ground. PII is any information that can be used to identify an individual.

Preventing data leaks

The broadness of that definition means that vast swathes of the information collected during customer interactions online can be classified as PII. Even if you only collect names and email addresses from in-person customers for your CRM, you need to protect that data from leaking.

The previous example is an oversimplification, of course. But it does serve as a starting point to explore the ways data is considered and steps that businesses are required to take under the GDPR and similar laws.

The GDPR provides guidelines for the level of encryption required by your company to ensure that, in the case of a data breach, your customers’ information is unusable by bad actors. Often, this encryption will require a one-way hash, so that the PII being utilized is anonymized but can still be analyzed.

Clearly explained terms

Additionally, clearly outlined terms of service must be utilized. The GDPR says that people must be aware of how their data will be used and that they can rescind permission to use their data at any time.

This is because the GDPR states that each individual owns their PII. GDPR also includes the right for the individual to demand removal of all of their PII.  In this case, GDPR requires the company to supply auditable proof to the individual that all of his or her PII data has been removed from the company’s data systems. 

Some business owners may balk at taking steps to stay compliant with the GDPR because it is a law in the European Union and their business is based in the United States. This is faulty reasoning. 

Increased globalization of commerce, especially eCommerce, means that a US-based company can easily wind up collecting data from EU citizens—and that data would be covered by the GDPR because the law says it is owned by the individual who in this case is an EU citizen. 

Essentially, this means that if a business in the US has a data breach and information from EU citizens are put at risk, that business could still face repercussions if their data storage and usage were not GDPR compliant.

Because every state in America has its own standards for handling PII and because PII from EU citizens must be handled according to the standards outlined in the GDPR (which is more stringent than the laws in many states), the safest course of action for a company that relies on collecting PII for any purpose is to meet the standards established by the GDPR.

But what tools are best suited to keeping a business GDPR compliant?

PII and AI

The answer is optimizing the usage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning algorithms. By incorporating these powerful tools into the handling and analysis of PII, GDPR compliance can be built into a company’s system as an automated part of the data gathering and usage processes.

The importance of user consent

User consent is the other major factor in protecting PII. Personally identifiable information must be given freely and that permission must be retractable. This is where machine learning tools are important.

When a user decides that they do not want their PII to be used by a company, there must be a process by which they can make their desire known. At that point, all of that person’s data must be forgotten. 

By constructing an algorithm that can locate and scrub data for which consent has been rescinded, a company can maintain compliance with regulations like the GDPR. It is important to note that this process is not as simple as removing information from a spreadsheet. The data must be completely forgotten. Any analyses that it was a part of must be adjusted—with a large data set, one person’s PII won’t affect analysis very much but removing that PII from every single aspect of a data collection and analysis system is a large task.

Effectively programmed AI is the only way to scrub a system of PII for which a company no longer has consent to store. There is a massive amount of PII that gets collected through the course of customer interaction. After anonymization, AI and machine-learning algorithms are the only way to track that data down and erase it and to provide an audit trail to document compliance. There is no better security tool when staying GDPR compliant than effective artificial intelligence.

New Regulations, New Answers

Even though the internet has become an indispensable part of life in the 21st century, the laws governing it are still being established and the limits of those laws are still being explored. From the world of medicine to online retailers, protecting customer data is incredibly important and increasingly regulated.

By using artificial intelligence, you can ensure your customers’ personally identifiable information is protected and that your business remains in compliance with laws regulating that information like the GDPR. The tools exist to help you thrive in this new business world. Now is the time to make use of them.

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