At the PrivSec London conference last week, we heard from Sheila Fitzpatrick, a global expert in privacy and compliance. Here’s our pick of what she had to say and her advice about GDPR, the culture shift it has already brought about, and data privacy and security.

Anonymising data doesn’t truly make data safe, because someone in the organisation still has access to the original data. You need to really think about why your company is getting and using data – achieving an ‘improved user experience’ is not a good enough excuse. Companies often think that security is the same thing as privacy, and point enquiries about privacy to security protocols – but this is an ‘instant fail’ in Fitzpatrick’s book.

Companies in many other countries don’t realise they’re still subject to other countries’ Data Protection laws such as GDPR – and many countries are also planning laws that will exceed its requirements. GDPR created an awareness of changing legal focus from data security to the lawful bases for processing data, which in turn became the impetus for new laws across the world – as well as adding new technologies which also created privacy issues.

GDPR became the biggest revenue generator since Y2K – and there are a lot of solutions in the market. Companies often like to believe that they can buy ‘compliance in a box’, which is impossible and shows a lack of understanding of privacy; they often throw technology at the problem and assume that innovation will provide a better user experience.

They think that privacy will become irrelevant as a result of this approach; that it can be addressed through a simple checkbox, or that they have a “legitimate interest” in processing personal data. However, this probably isn’t true if the basis can’t be explained on a page clearly. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that if consent is ambiguous, it’s invalid under GDPR.

Big Data is problematic for GDPR compliance on many fronts, and so are AI and Smart Cities: it’s difficult to meet consumer rights demands for example, and to maintain anonymity where necessary.

Fitzpatrick noted that to access public Wi-Fi from a major telecommunications company recently, she had to wade through 5 pages of Privacy Policy and still couldn’t find out how to turn cookies off – which is not compliant with GDPR requirements.

You need to always be honest about what you’re doing; if you can’t, you’ve got a problem. Be upfront about your use of third parties who receive data from you, and don’t let vendors dictate terms to you as their terms can put you in breach. Privacy improvements give a competitive advantage and failing to comply can damage reputations badly.

Our thanks to Sheila Fitzpatrick for these insights and for giving an engaging and thought-provoking talk.