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Data Privacy

Data Privacy vs. Data Security: A Guide

DataGrail, May 10, 2022

Respecting your customers’ data in today’s fast-evolving digital landscape means your business must apply data privacy and data security principles across its systems and practices. But before learning all about data minimization and opt out or opt in processes, you must first understand where these processes fall under, whether that’s data privacy or data security. For businesses that handle individuals’ data, they’re two essential disciplines requiring their own processes, policies, and investment. 

However, some may conflate these terms and their disciplines, given that certain data protection practices do involve both.

To help businesses develop a robust privacy management / data protection program, we’ll compare data privacy vs. data security below and answer a frequently asked question: What is the difference between data security and data privacy?

Data Privacy vs. Data Security Explained

What’s the difference between data privacy vs data security exactly? “Data privacy” and “data security” may be used interchangeably in some contexts, but they’re distinct disciplines. Data privacy, called “data protection” in Europe, generally regards the responsible, ethical, and regulation-compliant use of individuals’ personal data, whereas data security pertains to the technical and physical protections implemented to secure a digital environment.

You can have security without privacy, but not privacy without security.
– Privacy community aphorism

As an extreme example, it is no secret that governments engage in a range of surveillance practices that include facial recognition capable cameras in public spaces. The proposition is that as citizens we are asked to give up our privacy in exchange for national security and public safety. As citizens we hope the tradeoff is worthwhile, that our information is handled lawfully and responsibly, and that those in charge will be held to account for abusing public trust.  

Similar principles and tradeoffs apply to today’s data-driven economy. We volunteer our data – our data privacy – in exchange for something of value like a personalized shopping experience. In turn, businesses invest into the systems, people and practices to ensure the data remains in trustworthy hands.

For a closer breakdown, let’s define data privacy and data security more thoroughly before exploring how they might apply to your business.

What is Data Privacy?

Per the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

So at its core, data privacy encompasses organizations’ principles and strategies governing the responsible and proportional use of personal data—both to cultivate consumer trust and comply with relevant data privacy laws and regulations. What makes data privacy important?

The personnel managing a data privacy program are primarily concerned with the purposes and methods related to the collection, use, and sharing of personal data, ensuring:

  • Collection Limitation Principle: Collect only as much as you really need.
  • Data Quality Principle: Inaccurate and irrelevant data benefits no one.
  • Purpose Specification Principle: Be informative and timely about your actual data uses.
  • Use Limitation Principle: Be fair and proportionate with your data uses.
  • Security Safeguards Principle: Practice good security hygiene every time.
  • Openness Principle: Be transparent and clear about your data practices.
  • Individual Participation Principle: Honor privacy rights, from requests to complaints.
  • Accountability Principle: Hold yourself and your partners in demonstrable compliance, with applicable rules and policies.

Within and beyond these broad directives, a given organization’s specific data privacy obligations likely require adherence to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), state-level data privacy laws (e.g., CPRA, CPA, VDPA), or others. Complying with data minimization GDPR, CPRA, CPA, and VDPA regulations ensure businesses implement the appropriate business practices to minimize privacy risks to consumer data. 

What is Data Security?

Data security refers to businesses’ efforts to protect all of the information under its care from threats like phishing, malware, or other intrusions. The old analogy of comparing this discipline to establishing a defensive perimeter remains apt.

In most cases, these threats involve malicious actors and cybersecurity risks that can severely impact data:

  • Confidentiality:  Ensuring against unauthorized use or disclosure
  • Integrity:Ensuring data remains viable, accurate and usable
  • Availability Ensuring systems and personnel can access the data as needed

As a result, data and information security personnel are primarily concerned with implementing, configuring, and managing complex controls – to achieve these core objectives .

What Are the Differences Between Data Privacy vs. Data Security?

Data privacy protects consumers’ privacy rights and freedoms by ensuring that businesses use consumers’ data responsibly and in compliance with relevant regulations. Therefore, a data privacy program focuses more on how and why businesses use personal data and minimizing the impact of data collection, processing, and sharing on individuals—or “data subjects.”

In parallel, data security helps businesses minimize the risks of unauthorized access to their IT environment (including personal data), improper management of business-critical assets through their lifecycle, and reducing the impact of data breaches. As such, data security teams lean towards technical expertise; privacy teams towards legal expertise.

Why Is It Important to Understand the Difference?

Creating an effective data protection program requires both data privacy and data security. However, the roles, responsibilities, processes, and some technical safeguards are generally distinct to each discipline, so effective management requires understanding their differences.

Similarly, a business wouldn’t group sales and marketing staff into a single role or team, make them share a budget, assign the same duties, or expect the same performance. Both roles inherently complement each other but require separate management, personnel, and resources.

How Do Data Privacy and Data Security Work Together?

Simply put—data privacy programs are only effective if an organization implements a robust security foundation, and data security programs must adapt to privacy considerations and requirements to meet the organization’s and their customers’ needs.

“My personal assessment and security philosophy is to have strong denominators and measure from there. Know what you have a hold of, who it belongs to, what its life cycle is, and what its intended use is so you can intelligently answer the question of Why am I even holding on to this at all?”
– Chris Deibler, VP of Security, DataGrail

Both roles must collaborate to achieve comprehensive data protection in regards to personal information. For example:

  • Data necessity and confidentiality—ensuring that the data on which valuable security resources are being spent has actual business value, and that value/risk tradeoffs are assessed through cybersecurity and privacy impact assessments. Do we need this data at all? Who should have access to it? In what way?  
  • Data integrity and quality – requires preventing unauthorized changes or corruptions via security safeguards and enabling individuals to correct any mistakes or omissions they discover. Incorrect, incomplete or damaged data is not useful and can lead to unexpected serious consequences for consumers. Imagine your mortgage application being denied based on a faulty credit history.

Foundational Data Privacy With DataGrail

To achieve a robust and compliant data protection program, organizations must manage data privacy and security. But the complexities of these disciplines today require dedicated, state-of-the-art tools—especially a live data map for identifying where information is stored.

DataGrail’s platform enables your business to build a blueprint of where your data is stored in your IT environment with real-time updates—supporting privacy professionals in ensuring responsible and proportional data use and security professionals with understanding the security requirements for given storage locations.

Check out our privacy platform today to improve consumer trust and more easily meet your data privacy obligations.

Other Resources


Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

FTC. Start with Security: A Guide for Business.


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