The concept of privacy confuses people. Most people share seemingly unrelated, personal details online like birthdays and holiday plans on Facebook and promotions on LinkedIn. People also share Pictures of favorite foods and people on Instagram and opinions on sensitive issues throughout social media platforms; unbeknownst to them, the privacy risk increases with every share. The cumulative data can do more harm than good when used for nefarious purposes. People are more afraid to lose their phones and laptops than their data.
The harm that can come to businesses is far too severe and economically draining. Competitors can gain traction with the help of a business’ data while they battle the loss of integrity. Customers can sue for noncompliance and problems caused by data breaches. Conducting a privacy audit might be the best option for businesses looking to develop a secure privacy framework.
The importance of privacy audits
People have the right to choose what information they share and retrieve. Therefore, while businesses have the right to collect and even store relevant data, they must put in place a geographically compliant framework for data collection, storage, and use.
Privacy audits can help companies remain compliant with their policies and laws of the land. They can also help companies decrease their liability for data loss and maintain consumer trust and integrity throughout the process. However, there are many challenges in successfully executing a privacy audit.
Challenges of a privacy audit
The definition of privacy is complicated and multifaceted. Every company works with its own set of rules integrated within the state and country laws. Creating this definition can be a challenge for organisations as it changes with geography, sociopolitical environment, culture, industry, and organisation.
From data collection to data use, a company needs to invest time, effort, capital, and technology to create the most optimal data privacy plan. The company needs to train every employee on the payroll to work within the limits of the privacy policies. However, employees might not agree with the data privacy policies of the company.
For example, monitoring data while the employees are at work might not seem like a violation of privacy rights to some organizations, but the employees might disagree. An auditor must know that all parties involved agree with the criteria used in data collection.
2. Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is a huge responsibility for every auditor. While the usual identification tools, techniques, and behaviors help with the process, the technological prowess of cloud service can increase profitability while decreasing time lost and effort.
While businesses big and small are utilising cloud computing for improved functionality all around the world, an auditor should not discount the usage of cloud computing without comparing the risks with the benefits of the service. Security is not a real risk when leaks and breaches are more dependent on the policies of the storage provider and less on the location of the storage unit, physical or cloud.
Social media, on the other hand, might incite terror in the heart of small business owners and their consumers because of the higher chances of information collection. Companies might reveal innocuous data over a period which, when collected, might pose a threat to consumers. An auditor needs to keep in mind the devices used, big data, personal conflict, etc. while performing the audits.
The auditors need to understand how a company functions, what its priorities are, what its policies are, and primarily what its vision is to make the right assessments. After that, the auditor must evaluate the security features of the organisation’s chosen data storage unit. If the company uses cloud storage, then the auditor can check for end-to-end encryption, firewalls, password protection, back up, versioning, access permission, two or three-factor authentication, compliance, remote wipes, and more. Physical storage, on the other hand, demands physical protection, user logs, access logs, location, accountability, and more.
Based on which country the organisation is in and the countries where its users are, the auditor should be knowledgeable about the evolving laws in the areas. It is the auditor’s job to review whether every policy of the company coincides with the policies of the regulatory group or not. For example, any company that is in Europe or serves European Nationals should confirm compliance with the GDPR, whereas health organizations in the USA should comply with the HIPAA laws.
5. Mapping data flow
To maintain compliance with privacy policies, an auditor should understand the data flow of a company. If an organization has a data-flow map, that’s commendable, but even if an organization lacks one, an auditor must request one.
Best practices for privacy audits
Best practices for privacy audits can include detailed questionnaires, surveys, and interviews specific to the operational scope of different departments of a business.
The auditor conducting the interviews and creating the questionnaires should consider the accessibility, editing permission, and sharing capability of individuals within the organisation. The probable questions can be regarding:
- The type of personal data being collected and the purpose behind it.
- The type of personal information being processed and the underlying purpose.
- The kind of information that is being stored and discarded. The reason behind the categorisation.
- The kind of user consent required from individuals.
- Steps taken to maintain the accuracy and integrity of the data collected.
- Data security measures taken by the company or the cloud service provider of the company.
Privacy and its underlying pervasive nature will continue to evolve in society. Data collection, storage, and use will also change with the meaning of privacy.
Therefore, auditors need to keep updating themselves with the changing laws, requirements, policies, and industry needs. While creating a comprehensive auditing procedure can help, there should always be room for improvement and change.