A Quick Word Before We Get Started…

First, an obligatory disclaimer so that our lawyer doesn’t throw me out of a metaphorical window: we’re not lawyers and what follows isn’t legal advice. We have a vested interest in your success under the GDPR, but if you need concrete legal counsel, talk to a lawyer.

With that out of the way, yes we’re as sick of hearing about GDPR as you are but much like a noisy neighbour mowing the lawn while you’re trying to enjoy a quiet beer and your latest novel, it can’t be ignored. New regulation can be scary. There’s already a fair bit of anxiety out there about the GDPR, and the usual mix of misinformation and misunderstanding that accompanies new regulation on this scale.

We can speak with a high degree of certainty where data collection through your website is concerned. The GDPR isn’t looking that scary. The EU’s intention largely looks to be a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about and treats privacy and data collection. Enforceability is probably going to look very similar to VAT. Corporations and government agencies will likely be expected to comply immediately, and that will create a ripple effect that sets a new standard for how we handle data worldwide. It’s extremely unlikely that the EU authorities are going to start dropping noncompliance fines on small businesses fresh out of the gates on May the 25th.

In that light, it’s a cause that we can get behind 100%. Safeguarding your personal data, and helping you to safeguard your users’, is extremely important to us. Compliance shouldn’t be difficult. Let’s begin exploring the GDPR and how to make this transition as painless as possible in the months ahead!

What is the GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the replacement for the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC. Originally enacted in 1995 while the internet was still young, they’re definitely due the update. The change is much more than a simple update/upgrade of existing policy, however. At its core, the GDPR is a move towards enshrining control of your personal data as a fundamental human right.

The GDPR gives EU citizens control of their digital data by empowering them with the right to know when personal data is being collected, what data is being collected, access to that data, and to purge it on request. And that’s just a general overview; we’ll get into the nitty gritty of the details below.

In short, the GDPR is a data privacy regulation that modernises and normalises data privacy laws across Europe and applies to any organisation collecting data on EU citizens.

Does the GDPR affect my website?

We’re not going to try and cover all aspects of the GDPR here, it will affect your business in many different ways. What we’re going to focus on here is your website. So first of all we need to work out if you actually need to do anything at all, so ask yourself:

  • Do you have a contact form on your website?
  • Does your website use cookies?
  • Does your website collect ANY personal data (this includes a users IP address)?

If you answered yes or not sure to any of those, chances are the GDPR is going to affect you, I can only think of one website in the last 10 years that we’ve built that doesn’t use a contact form or cookies.

If you’re not sure if this affects you then please do contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

Impact and Scope of the GDPR

The GDPR makes several key changes to privacy law and introduces basic data subject rights for all EU citizens. We’ll look at each in turn below.

Increased Territorial Scope

The reach and applicability of the GDPR is not limited to the EU, but instead impacts any website/organization that handles the personal data of any EU citizen. This means that essentially any website must comply with the GDPR no matter where in the world the servers or administrators are physically located. If you accept traffic from the EU and collect information from EU citizens, GDPR compliance matters.

In technical terms, the GDPR applies to any processing of personal data by both controllers and processors of that data. Article 4 defines controllers as anyone that is involved in determining how personal data is handled regardless of whether they directly collect that data or not. Processors are defined as anyone who actually processes personal data on behalf of the controller. This is a key point to note as it broadens the scope of the GDPR to anyone involved in not just the collection but the handling of personal data as well, including cloud services.

Explicit Consent Requirement for Data Collection

Strengthened consent requirements are the core of the new regulation. If you collect or manage any EU citizen’s data, you must:

  1. Request the explicit consent of every user before any data collection takes place. Requests must be in clear, plain, easily understandable language free of legalese. It also must stand alone from other matters or requests and not be buried in other text.
  2. Have a clear and accessible privacy policy that informs users how collected data will be stored and used.
  3. Have a means for users to request access and view the data you have collected on them.
  4. Provide users with a way to withdraw consent and purge personal data collected on them; i.e. the “Right to Be Forgotten”.

Penalties and Fines

Penalisation for noncompliance comes in the form of tiered fines that scale to the severity of the violation. Fines cap at 4% of annual turnover or €20 million, whichever is greater.

Data Subject Rights

In plain English, a data subject is any EU citizen from which you are collecting personal data. GDPR compliance requires data subjects be granted certain rights. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but those rights that are relevant to the collection, processing, and storage of personal data on your WordPress website.

Right to Access. Data subjects must be able to request and obtain confirmation that data is or is not being collected on them, and if so exactly what data is being collected, how, where, and for what purpose. That data must also be provided to them in an electronic format free of charge on request.

Right to Be Forgotten. Data subjects must be provided a quick and painless way to withdraw consent and have collected data purged.

Data Portability. Similar to the Right to Access, Data Portability requires that data subjects are able to request, obtain, and/or transfer possession of collected data at any time.

Breach Notification. If a breach/unauthorized access of personal data takes place that is likely to “result in a risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals”, notification must be made within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach.


GDPR Compliance and contact forms

Forms exist to collect data offered by your visitors, guests, and members. How can you maintain GDPR compliance while using contact forms? Let’s dive into the details of what this new regulation means for you and your website specifically.

What Forms Do We Need to Worry About?

First, not all your forms are necessarily going to be impacted by the GDPR. Running an anonymous survey? Quiz? If you’re not collecting personally identifiable information on users, your form’s not impacted. However…

Are you asking for a name? Email? Address? Phone? The GDPR impacts that form. If you’re using any email marketing or CRM extensions in a form, it’s affected. Save Progress? It’s affected. Most likely any form that deals with commerce of any type through Stripe, Paypal, or Recurly is affected. If you’re collecting any personally identifiable information whatsoever, GDPR compliance becomes important. So, how to comply?

How Can We Comply?

It’s actually not that burdensome to make your forms compliant. We have several avenues to explore here, so let’s take a look at options.

1. Request Consent

Explicit consent has to be obtained before data collection can take place. In other words, before the user submits the form. They must be made aware that this form is collecting personal data with the intent to store that data. You’re also responsible for letting the user know how that data will be stored and used. Don’t sweat, it’s easier than it sounds.

First, you need a privacy policy. The Right to Access states that a user must be informed if data is being collected, what data is being collected, how, where, and for what purpose. That’s a load of info. To keep things simple and easy in your form, use your privacy policy to fully disclose your data collection and storage practices, and then link to that privacy policy from the form when we request consent.

Informing the user that a form is going to be collecting personal data and requesting consent is as simple as a new checkbox field, at the end of your form, here is what we’ve setup on our contact form:

2. Make User Data Organised and Accessible

You must:

  1. Be able to provide a user with all personal data you have on them on request
  2. Be able to purge all personal data you have on them on request

The responsibility of being able to associate submitted data with the submitter falls to you. There are probably a number of ways to pull this off. Our recommendation? The simplest means would likely be to always collect an email address when you collect personal data of any type. Submissions can then easily be searched by email address.

This will allow you to easily pull together submissions from a given user and either provide an export or delete them on request. Emails can similarly be searched and dealt with. You should probably also state somewhere (privacy policy?) that this is how you’re handling things for transparency’s sake.

3. Have an Open Channel for User Requests

GDPR compliance requires that you be reachable and responsive to user requests for data that you’ve collected on them either to view or delete. There are a number of ways to handle this also, but a simple consent withdrawal/request on your privacy policy page (which is linked to by any form which collects personal data) should do the trick nicely. From there it’s just up to you to be responsive.

We Know You Have Questions…

Our intention here is to inform. We want each and every one of our customers to transition into the GDPR landscape as effortlessly and as painlessly as possible. We’ve done our absolute best to parse these new regulations and provide the most accurate information possible. We’ll also continue to update this page as information on the regulation improves. Continue to check back with us here for those updates.

We can and will address your questions to the best of our ability. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but there’s a lot we can tackle with a high degree of confidence. Especially as relates to your website.


GDPR Resources

I’ve had a lot of people asking about sample privacy polices and the ICO so I’ve included some links here below:

Sample Privacy Policy – Download Free Sample GDPR Privacy Policy

Do you need to register with the ICO? – ICO Data Protection Register Self Assessment

Online checklist tools to help you comply with the GDPR – Data Protection Self Assessment Toolkit

Determine your Lawful Basis for processing – Lawful Basis Interactive Guidance Tool

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