Written by Will Kennard

GDPR: What is it and why do I keep hearing about it?

You may have heard or seen reference to something called “GDPR” in recent months. Whilst it might sound like nothing more than a snooze inducing acronym, it’s actually an incredibly important new legal requirement that companies of all sizes need to be aware of.

In this piece, we set out (in simple terms!) what it’s all about and look to translate some of the jargon you’ll soon be seeing a lot of.

A new legal requirement

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be in place by May 2018 and will apply to any data companies hold or process within the EU.

So that’s all UK companies. And it’s also companies outside the EU, for example, US companies who hold any data on UK customers.

When implemented, GDPR will be the most strict data privacy law in the world.

Its overall goal is to safeguard consumer data and enforce data security rights. At the same time it forces organisations to think about what they collect, and how they use it.

Deciphering terminology

Data controller

The data controller is the organisation or individual who determines what happens with personal data.

If you are a business owner, that’s you.

Data processor

The organisation or person who processes data on behalf of the controller.

If you are a business owner, that’s a third party; often a tool/software.

An example of a simple situation where GDPR applies would be if you were holding client data in the form of an email list, and you were then using this list to send emails through MailChimp.

In this example you are the data controller, and MailChimp is the data processor.

Only the data controller is held liable for the data protection rules, not the processor. So you can’t blame your email provider if you don’t obey the rules.


Fines for non-compliance can vary, but will be as high as 4% of annual turnover. Ouch.

A summary of the requirements


Data controllers must keep their terms and conditions simple and easy to read, essentially meaning complicated contracts designed to confuse users into giving their consent to selling their data to third parties are now against the law.

It must also be as easy for the user to withdraw consent as it is to give it.

Breach Notification

In the event of a data breach, data controllers and processors must notify their customers of any risk within 72 hours.

Right to access

Customers have the right to obtain confirmation of whether their personal data is being processed and how.

The data controller should provide an electronic copy of personal data for free to customers.

Right to be forgotten

When data is no longer relevant to its original purpose, customers can at any time have the data controller erase their personal data and stop it from being distributed.

Data portability

Individuals have the right to obtain and reuse their personal data for their own purposes by transferring it across different IT environments (systems, etc).

Privacy by design

This calls for the inclusion of data protection from the very beginning of designing software, systems, websites etc.

It is the responsibility of the data controller to implement technical measures to keep data secure and compliant with the GDPR rules.

You must employ data protection officers if…

Professionally qualified officers must be appointed in public authorities or for organisations with more than 250 employees.

What you should do

Aside from making sure you can comply to the rules above, what can you actually do now to ensure you’re on the way to being compliant?

If your company is larger than 250 employees, we’d advise you to get a specialist solicitor to help you audit and create documentation, and also hire a full time data protection officer to keep compliant.

For smaller businesses…

Audit your data flow

Answer and document your responses these questions:

  • What personal data do you have?
  • Where is it sent?
  • Where is it stored?
  • How is it processed?
  • What do you tell people about how it’s processed?
  • How do you collect it?

Create a GDPR summary document

From the audit questions, produce a document you and your staff can refer to so that everyone knows what’s what. You can then use this to ensure you have a resource for anyone enquiring into whether you’re compliant.

Check third parties

Make sure your third party suppliers are also compliant. That’s pensions, healthcare etc etc.

Customer data

In summary, you must make sure your website and any other means of collecting customer data follows these rules:

Opt-in Only No soft opt-in Right to be forgotten
All contacts must provide consent to be contacted. The sender (your business) must be able to prove they have consent. Implied consent is no longer enough. Make sure users are ticking a box to something they can understand when you collect their data. Anyone on your contacts list has the right to have all their data deleted for free at any time.

Hopefully this clears GDPR up a bit.

At Hirola Group we build and market awesome digital products, so we of course aren’t solicitors. But we consider legal obligations with anything we create, as well as having trusted partners to help with legal compliance wherever it is needed. If you think we could help your digital products or presence get in touch with us using the contact us page.