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Understanding Online Data Privacy Regulations

Online data privacy regulations have grown in number and importance over recent years, making it more challenging to understand them all. You may be unsure of which regulations apply to you and your site, or potentially nervous about navigating them. Online data privacy regulations are designed to protect all internet users, including you and your site.


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been in effect in the European Union (E.U.) since 2018. It outlines the rights that E.U. citizens have over their data and the obligations that organizations face when collecting, storing, and potentially selling personal data. It is widely considered the most significant and strict data privacy law in the world.

Even if you and your site are not based in the E.U., GDPR policies still apply to you as long as any E.U. citizen can access and utilize your website, goods, or services. The fines for failing to comply with the GDPR can reach tens of millions of euros.

Compliance Tips

Complying with the GDPR is not only important but also a good way to ensure you are respecting users’ privacy and security. Since GDPR is so strict and comprehensive, complying with its policies often ensures compliance with other data privacy regulations, as well.

When it comes to GDPR, there are a few best practices you can use to get off on the right foot. For example, make sure users are aware of any data they are agreeing to transmit and where and how it is being transmitted. Remember: you must have a concrete legal reason for collecting any user data. Any IT activity going on outside the E.U. needs to be verified for GDPR data export standards, such as email security.

You also must have a system in place for users to easily request a summary of any data you have stored on them, with the option to correct or delete that data if they wish.

Since GDPR policies are so extensive, the E.U. has compiled a convenient checklist that will help you make sure you cover all the necessary compliance requirements.


Passed in the U.S. in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act focuses specifically on data privacy for children 13 and under. COPPA addresses the particular danger that children face online, since they are typically not equipped to understand the dangers of sharing their personal data or allowing it to be collected.

Like GDPR in the E.U., COPPA may be a U.S. law, but it impacts any website that operates in the U.S. – so global awareness and compliance are necessary. COPPA even restricts targeted online marketing for children under 13.

Compliance Tips

You’ll need to be careful when complying with COPPA regulations since they are about handling children’s personal information. Clarity, diligence, and a strict security policy are crucial. Your privacy policy must be clear and easily accessible for parents to review.

You’ll need to make an effort to ensure parents and guardians see this information as well. In some cases, children will need to have their parent or guardian formally consent to your site’s privacy policy. You may even need to have a parent or guardian use a credit card to verify that they are actually an adult.

COPPA requires any data you collect on young users to be deleted once it has fulfilled any necessary purpose, and parents have the legal right to request their child’s data be deleted at any time.


The 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act specifies data privacy regulations for financial institutions. It is also called the Financial Modernization Act and applies to financial institutions operating in the United States.

This law puts stringent restrictions on how financial institutions can use sensitive data and the security measures they are required to have in place to protect that data. Users must be informed about when and how a financial institution is sharing their data and they must have the right to opt out if they wish.

Compliance Tips

GLBA compliance is all about communication and internal action. You have to ensure you are clearly communicating with users about how their data is being handled and their right to opt out of sharing it with any third parties. Internally, you must take steps to protect user data with adequate cybersecurity.

The GLBA’s Safeguards Rule even outlines requirements for employee cybersecurity training, security software, and regular testing for security vulnerabilities. Your organization has to actively monitor, report, respond to, and prevent any instances of unauthorized access to nonpublic personal information (NPI) you collect from users.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is one of the most important health data privacy regulations to date. This U.S. law, passed in 1996, does for health data what the GLBA does for financial data. It outlines standards for the protection and handling of “personally identifiable health information” as well as security standards for protecting, storing, and transferring that data.

HIPAA applies to a broad range of people and organizations. It covers anyone who deals with personally identifiable health information (PHI), which could be anyone from an official healthcare institution to a school sports coach.

Despite this law’s good intentions, industry leaders have pointed out that it was written at a time when few could have anticipated the scale of the challenges of the digital world we live in today. So, individuals may need to take extra precautions to ensure they are complying with HIPAA regulations adequately online.

Compliance Tips

Complying with HIPAA regulations requires careful attention to data access. Three main areas are covered under HIPAA: administrative, physical, and technical security. You will need to research and understand what specific forms of data are protected by HIPAA. The list includes everything from name and birthdate to photos and fingerprints.

Make sure you and your team are aware of what you can and cannot do with this information, because HIPAA regulations are more detailed in this respect than some other data privacy laws. For example, you cannot discuss personal health information in public. Data breach incidents, including physical theft of equipment and office break-ins, are HIPAA violations, so you’ll want to make both physical security and cybersecurity a priority.


The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act is a Canadian federal law passed in 2001 that regulates users’ data privacy rights as well as commercial activities with users’ data. Like GDPR, it covers any site, business, or organization that operates in Canada. So, even if you are not personally based in Canada, you need to comply with PIPEDA as long as a Canadian citizen could use your site or buy your goods or services.

PIPEDA includes 10 fair information principles that protect the use, storage, and sharing of personal information. Specifically, users have the right to access any personal information an organization has stored on them and change it if necessary. Organizations are required to obtain user consent to store, utilize, or share any personal info and must protect it from theft or compromise.

Compliance Tips

Much like complying with GDPR, you need to make sure you are communicating to users how and why you plan to use their personal information. Your privacy policy should be easily accessible, and your data collection consent notification needs to be clear. You’ll have to have a system in place for users to request a summary of any personal data about them that you have stored. Since users can request corrections to their data to improve its accuracy, you will also need a user-friendly system for submitting corrections requests.

Your security policy is part of the picture with PIPEDA, as well. Users have the right to know that you are protecting their information, so make sure you have a strong cybersecurity strategy in place and clearly outline this strategy for users.

Complying With Data Privacy Regulations

Complying with data privacy regulations from around the world is critical to ensure you are keeping users safe and respecting their privacy. Always refer to official government sources regarding compliance for your business or organization to ensure you are getting authoritative information.

Taking the necessary steps to abide by these regulations will ultimately result in a safer experience for users and customers and help protect your organization or website from dangerous data breaches.

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