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So you’re handling GDPR and you have a privacy doc and policy and a plan for people requesting data and, yes, deleting it.
Eventually someone is going to ask you to delete their content from your site. This is the scary part for most people. Remember, you get 30 days to reply, so don’t panic. Next, figure out what they’re asking for, and if you can say no.
This is the fun part. You can say no. Sometimes.
When You Can Say No When You Can Say No
In general, yes, you should delete people’s information if they ask. But if your website stores complicated information this is not actually as black and white as all that. The right to erasure does not apply if retaining is necessary for one of the following reasons:
- exercising your right of freedom of expression and information
- meeting any legal obligations
- performing a task for and in the public interest or in your legal authority
- archiving information of public interest or for research where deletion would impair the work significantly
- related to and legal claims you have (or may have)
This helps you balance out the problem of being told to delete things you need to keep for tax reasons. It also keeps sites that may collect public data for the general public (like wikipedia or a website that tracks queer characters on TV) from losing everything. It won’t protect you from other lawsuits, of course.
It’s that last one I feel is really important to everyone. That’s the one that means if I block you, I may not have to delete your data, even if you ask, because I may need it for the establishment of legal claims. But that has to be a legit claim.
You can also just say no for any reason you feel is justified. Now again, do not use this flagrantly. You still have to turn around and tell someone that you’re not deleting their data, so you need to be serious about this.
Self Protection Self Protection
And speaking of being serious, you can actually say no to protect yourself. You see, people can only ask for deletion if the data is no longer needed for the reason it was collected. So if they want to delete their account but keep shopping at your store, you can say no since the information is needed to keep shopping!
So remember why you track the data in the first place. When people leave a comment, for example, you track their username, email, and IP (and web address if they provide it) in order to know who they are and prevent spam, but also abuse.
Here’s an excerpt from one of my privacy policies:
Comments: When visitors leave comments on the website, the collected data shown in the comments form, as well as the visitor’s IP address and browser user agent string are saved in order to help spam detection and abuse.
Since I retain data to prevent abuse, that is serial internet harassers, you can ask me all you want for me to delete any data I save about you, but I can say no to protect myself.
When You Say No When You Say No
If you decide to tell someone no to a deletion request, you must:
- provide the reason
- inform them of their rights to make a complaint
- inform them of their right to a ‘judicial remedy’
That last one means yes, they can sue you to delete the data. If they’re abusing you (harassing etc) and you’ve saved all that, you’ll probably win. Which is one reason you should actually save and document people’s actions. I hate having a whole folder on my laptop that documents a bunch of people hating on me, but I need it.
Basically if you’re going to say no, have a damn good reason, document it, and be prepared for a fight.
Say Yes If You Can Say Yes If You Can
Most of the time, it’s no skin off your ear to delete a comment or edit a post. But sometimes it’s going to be a huge deal. And in fact, you can turn around and tell people “If I delete all your data, I will retain information required to identify you in order to prevent you from returning to this site. Deletion requests means you will not be welcome back.”
If that sounded harsh, well, it can be. Because for most small blogs, consider what they’re asking. When someone asks to delete the content of a personal blog, it’s most likely going to be for a pretty petty reason. Unless they’re asking you to remove information that shouldn’t be public (like their phone or email – and yes, someone’s asked me to delete that before), it’s probably going to be someone asking you to remove a comment that makes them look foolish. Or at least it has been in my experience.
Make Your Life Easier Make Your Life Easier
Keep this in mind too. Make your life easier. If you don’t need comments on your site, don’t have them. Turn off that contact form too. But there’s no law that says you need to let people talk to you on your blog.
This won’t be true for all situations, but do as much as you can and save yourself that GDPR headache.