Backblaze and GDPR

By | February 15th, 2018

GDPR General Data Protection Regulation

Over the next few months the noise over GDPR will finally reach a crescendo. For the uninitiated, “GDPR” stands for “General Data Protection Regulation” and it goes into effect on May 25th of this year. GDPR is designed to protect how personal information of EU (European Union) citizens is collected, stored, and shared. The regulation should also improve transparency as to how personal information is managed by a business or organization.

Backblaze fully expects to be GDPR compliant when May 25th rolls around and we thought we’d share our experience along the way. We’ll start with this post as an introduction to GDPR. In future posts, we’ll dive into some of the details of the process we went through in meeting the GDPR objectives.

GDPR: A Two Way Street

To ensure we are GDPR compliant, Backblaze has assembled a dedicated internal team, engaged outside counsel in the United Kingdom, and consulted with other tech companies on best practices. While it is a sizable effort on our part, we view this as a waypoint in our ongoing effort to secure and protect our customers’ data and to be transparent in how we work as a company.

In addition to the effort we are putting into complying with the regulation, we think it is important to underscore and promote the idea that data privacy and security is a two-way street. We can spend millions of dollars on protecting the security of our systems, but we can’t stop a bad actor from finding and using your account credentials left on a note stuck to your monitor. We can give our customers tools like two factor authentication and private encryption keys, but it is the partnership with our customers that is the most powerful protection. The same thing goes for your digital privacy — we’ll do our best to protect your information, but we will need your help to do so.

Why GDPR is Important

At the center of GDPR is the protection of Personally Identifiable Information or “PII.” The definition for PII is information that can be used stand-alone or in concert with other information to identify a specific person. This includes obvious data like: name, address, and phone number, less obvious data like email address and IP address, and other data such as a credit card number, and unique identifiers that can be decoded back to the person.

How Will GDPR Affect You as an Individual

If you are a citizen in the EU, GDPR is designed to protect your private information from being used or shared without your permission. Technically, this only applies when your data is collected, processed, stored or shared outside of the EU, but it’s a good practice to hold all of your service providers to the same standard. For example, when you are deciding to sign up with a service, you should be able to quickly access and understand what personal information is being collected, why it is being collected, and what the business can do with that information. These terms are typically found in “Terms and Conditions” and “Privacy Policy” documents, or perhaps in a written contract you signed before starting to use a given service or product.

Even if you are not a citizen of the EU, GDPR will still affect you. Why? Because nearly every company you deal with, especially online, will have customers that live in the EU. It makes little sense for Backblaze, or any other service provider or vendor, to create a separate set of rules for just EU citizens. In practice, protection of private information should be more accountable and transparent with GDPR.

How Will GDPR Affect You as a Backblaze Customer

Over the coming months Backblaze customers will see changes to our current “Terms and Conditions,” “Privacy Policy,” and to our Backblaze services. While the changes to the Backblaze services are expected to be minimal, the “terms and privacy” documents will change significantly. The changes will include among other things the addition of a group of model clauses and related materials. These clauses will be generally consistent across all GDPR compliant vendors and are meant to be easily understood so that a customer can easily determine how their PII is being collected and used.

Common GDPR Questions:

Here are a few of the more common questions we have heard regarding GDPR.

  1. GDPR will only affect citizens in the EU.
    Answer: The changes that are being made by companies such as Backblaze to comply with GDPR will almost certainly apply to customers from all countries. And that’s a good thing. The protections afforded to EU citizens by GDPR are something all users of our service should benefit from.
  2. After May 25, 2018, a citizen of the EU will not be allowed to use any applications or services that store data outside of the EU.
    Answer: False, no one will stop you as an EU citizen from using the internet-based service you choose. But, you should make sure you know where your data is being collected, processed, and stored. If any of those activities occur outside the EU, make sure the company is following the GDPR guidelines.
  3. My business only has a few EU citizens as customers, so I don’t need to care about GDPR?
    Answer: False, even if you have just one EU citizen as a customer, and you capture, process or store data their PII outside of the EU, you need to comply with GDPR.
  4. Companies can be fined millions of dollars for not complying with GDPR.
    Answer:
    True, but: the regulation allows for companies to be fined up to €20 Million or 4% of global revenue (whichever is greater) if they don’t comply with GDPR. In practice, the feeling is that such fines will be reserved (at least initially) for egregious violators that ignore or merely give “lip-service” to GDPR.
  5. You’ll be able to tell a company is GDPR compliant because they have a “GDPR Certified” badge on their website.
    Answer: There is no official GDPR certification or an official GDPR certification program. Companies that comply with GDPR are expected to follow the articles in the regulation and it should be clear from the outside looking in that they have followed the regulations. For example, their “Terms and Conditions,” and “Privacy Policy” should clearly spell out how and why they collect, use, and share your information. At some point a real GDPR certification program may be adopted, but not yet.

For all the hoopla about GDPR, the regulation is reasonably well thought out and addresses a very important issue — people’s privacy online. Creating a best practices document, or in this case a regulation, that companies such as Backblaze can follow is a good idea. The document isn’t perfect, and over the coming years we expect there to be changes. One thing we hope for is that the countries within the EU continue to stand behind one regulation and not fragment the document into multiple versions, each applying to themselves. We believe that having multiple different GDPR versions for different EU countries would lead to less protection overall of EU citizens.

In summary, GDPR changes are coming over the next few months. Backblaze has our internal staff and our EU-based legal council working diligently to ensure that we will be GDPR compliant by May 25th. We believe that GDPR will have a positive effect in enhancing the protection of personally identifiable information for not only EU citizens, but all of our Backblaze customers.

[2-26-2018: corrected penalty amounts – had them backwards. (AK)]

Andy Klein

Andy Klein

Director of Product Marketing at Backblaze
Andy has 20+ years experience in technology marketing. He has shared his expertise in computer security and data backup at the Federal Trade Commission, Rootstech, RSA and over 100 other events. His current passion is to get everyone to back up their data before it's too late.
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