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The Privacy Advisor | Building a modern data protection technology stack Related reading: Five years in: Impressions on GDPR's maturity




In today's digital landscape, businesses face increasing challenges in effectively managing privacy, security and data protection. With the proliferation of data and the ever-evolving regulatory landscape, organizations have many tools to choose from to address concerns and run effective data protection programs.

But with many different tools comes confusion, and with confusion comes challenges. In the landscape of privacy, governance and security tools, privacy professionals often face the challenge of articulating the core value proposition of privacy technology to other groups in their organization, like governance and security.

Understanding the ecosystem

A modern data protection technology stack comprises at least three components: privacy tools, data catalog tools and data security posture management tools. Each serves a distinct purpose within an organization and is utilized by different teams.

Privacy tools are designed and built to address privacy-specific requirements outlined in regulations like the EU General Data Protection Regulation or the California Privacy Rights Act. They enable organizations to manage data inventories, manage records of processing activities, fulfill data subject requests, manage customer consent, conduct data protection assessments and oversee other critical functions of a privacy program. Privacy tools empower businesses to establish privacy-specific workflows, comply with privacy regulations effectively and give customers their fundamental right to privacy.

Data catalog tools assist with identifying and organizing data assets — such as tables, databases and object stores — and capturing technical and governance metadata about underlying data assets in the data ecosystem. These tools focus on efficient data management, primarily for data at rest. They enable data governance teams to categorize and catalog data in the organization, enhance data discoverability and facilitate better data governance.

DSPM tools focus primarily on assessing and managing the security posture of an organization's data environment, which includes identifying vulnerabilities, monitoring security configurations and detecting potential security risks. Use cases include identifying security vulnerabilities, like encryption, in your cloud environments, managing and enforcing access policies, and introducing alerts and investigation capabilities for incident response management.

Debunking privacy technology misconceptions

To establish a robust data protection stack, it is crucial to debunk the common misconception that data catalog or DSPM tools can solve all privacy workflows and vice versa. It is essential to recognize that privacy tools are not merely "nice to have." They play a pivotal role in effectively meeting privacy requirements and are a "must-have" not only for complying with regulations such as the GDPR and CPRA, but helping companies facilitate one of the most important rights for human beings: the right to their data.

Privacy tools are uniquely differentiated the from data catalogs and DSPM tools. While those tools excel in specific areas, privacy tools offer features tailored to privacy regulations and requirements.

Limitations of data catalog, DSPM tools for privacy

Data catalog and DSPM tools certainly have their merits. That said, it is essential to acknowledge their limitations for privacy-specific use cases.

Data catalog tools focus primarily on organizing and managing data assets and data at rest. However, they often fall short of identifying privacy and security concerns upstream: Where in the source code is this data being processed from? How is data making its way into data stores? It is imperative to gain visibility into data processing that occurs upstream, and privacy tools focused on understanding data processing from code bases and data pipelines upstream can help bridge this gap.

Data catalog and DSPM tools lack features tailored to privacy regulations and requirements. They don't support aspects like ROPA generation, automated DSR workflows, cookie and consent management, support for data protection assessments, and other privacy-related workflows. Not having these core workflows automated by technology usually leads to an inefficient, cumbersome, incomplete and fragmented privacy program.

Relying solely on data catalog and DSPM tools provides an incomplete view of what is needed for a robust privacy program. These tools often overlook one of the most crucial aspects: contractual obligations that lay out the constraints an organization needs to operate under. Understanding such obligations, and how they impact data collection and processing, is one of the fundamental aspects of any privacy program.

Good privacy tools excel in all the areas outlined above.

Coexistence for a comprehensive stack

To overcome the limitations and create a modern data protection stack, it is crucial to understand having data catalog or DSPM tools won't solve privacy challenges, and organizations need to leverage the strengths of each tool effectively. Having a stack where privacy tools, data catalog tools and DSPM tools coexist offers several benefits:

  • Privacy tools cater to privacy-specific requirements, such as data inventory, ROPAs, DSR fulfillment, data protection assessments and consent management. They enable organizations to implement privacy-specific workflows, and run efficient and comprehensive privacy programs.
  • Data catalog tools provide a foundation for efficient data management, especially concerning data at rest. These tools help organize and manage underlying data assets effectively.
  • DSPM tools ensure cloud data security by encompassing access controls, encryption, incident response and data loss prevention capabilities, among other things, to safeguard sensitive data.

Integrating these tools allows data engineering, privacy and security teams to work together and leverage each other's expertise. This collaboration creates efficiencies, given that these tools can build on top of previously completed work, which usually translates to time and cost savings.

The path forward

It is essential to recognize that building a modern data protection stack requires the coexistence of privacy, data catalog and DSPM tools. By leveraging each tool's unique features and functionalities and enabling collaboration among teams, organizations can effectively address privacy requirements, manage data and ensure robust data security. Embracing a comprehensive stack empowers businesses to navigate the complex regulatory landscape, while safeguarding customer trust and data integrity.

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