The new meaning of PII — can you ever be anonymous?

by | Oct 18, 2022 | Technology

This article is part of a VB special issue. Read the full series here: How Data Privacy Is Transforming Marketing.
Personal data doesn’t have to identify you to be personal. With the right technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), even a string of random numbers can be combined with other information to discover your identity, and become personally identifiable information (PII). 

This raises significant data collection challenges for organizations that need to collect data to generate insights and optimize customers’ experience, without leaving PII exposed to mismanagement or unauthorized third parties. 

At the same time, regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) expect enterprises to be much more proactive and transparent about how they process PII. 

Any mistake in collecting or processing this data can result in costly regulatory penalties and legal action, as Facebook parent company Meta found out last month after it received a $400 million fine for exposing children’s personal data on Instagram. But what is PII exactly? 

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What data counts as PII? 

Before an organization can protect PII, it needs to identify what type of data falls under this classification. This is difficult because there is no universal definition of PII. According to Gartner VP analyst, Bart Willemsen, what PII is, “depends on who you ask.” 

Regulators in the U.S. and EU, for example, have different opinions on what constitutes PII. 

“In the U.S., with their fragmented and mostly absent privacy legislation, PII historically refers to two or three dozen identifiers like name, address, SSN, driver’s license or credit card number and such,” Wi …

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