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The Lowdown on GDPR Compliance for WordPress Users



You might have heard of the term “GDPR” being discussed around the web. It’s a pretty hot topic right now, especially with all that is going on with data breaches and security in the news. To put it simply, GDPR is a privacy law designed to give citizens back control of their personal data. Hands down, GDPR will impact how the entire internet deals with data. The scary part is that there is a fast-approaching May 25th, 2018 deadline and many of these basic questions regarding GDPR are still plaguing people:

  1. What exactly is GDPR? In layman’s terms.
  2. Does GDPR impact me?
  3. What do I need to do for GDPR compliance before the deadline?

Many have a tendency to put off what they don’t understand. Taxes are a good example. For a lot of us, GDPR has simply been lower priority on our checklists. But GDPR is coming and you really should take a few moments and determine whether or not you need to make changes to the way your business and or website operates. If you don’t there could be hefty fines involved.

Don’t worry, we’ll try and explain everything you need to know about GDPR below, as well what you can do to prepare. But we aren’t lawyers, so we’ll try not to bore you with all the legal details.



GDPR can seem overwhelming! 😨 But a word of caution, don’t ignore it.

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Please note that this post is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered legal advice.

What is GDPR?

GDPR stands for the General Data Protection Regulation. It’s a privacy law that was approved on April 14, 2016, by the European Commission to protect the rights of all EU citizens (28 member states) and their personal data. This replaces the 95/46/EC Directive on Data Protection of 24 October 1995 and is much more extensive than the Cookie Law of 2011 (soon to be replaced by the new EU ePrivacy regulation which goes hand in hand with GDPR) . The rollout plan for the regulation was set for two years, with a deadline of May 25th, 2018.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years… EU GDPR

If you want to read the extensive official PDFs of the regulation (11 chapters, 99 articles) we recommend checking out gdpr-info.eu, as they have everything in a neatly arranged website.

What GDPR Entails

Unfortunately, not everything is always black or white when it comes to things like this, but the GDPR alliance has a great overview what it entails:

  • Applies to any personal data (any data that relates to or can be used to identify someone).

Personal data means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (data subject); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, social security number, location data, an online identifier (IP address or email address) or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person;. It also controls what can be done with the personal information (Art. 4).

  • Applies to any sensitive personal data such as race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and health status. (Recital 51, Art. 9)
  • Requires that consent is given or there is a good reason to process or store personal information.
  • Allows a person to request that their personal information about them is completely erased (unless there is a valid reason, such as a bank loan). Also referred to as the right to be forgotten (Art. 17).
  • Gives a person the right to know what information is being stored about them.
  • Privacy by design and default: Makes sure that personal information is properly protected. New systems must have protection designed into them and access to the data is strictly controlled and only given when required (Art. 25).
  • If data is lost, stolen or is accessed without permission, the authorities must be notified within 72 hours (Art. 33) along with the people whose data was accessed (Art. 34).
  • Data can only be used for the reason given at the time of collection and is securely deleted after it’s no longer needed.
  • Right to access and data portability: A person can request their information is an easily downloadable format at any time, as well as use or transfer the data to another service. (Art. 20)
  • Allows national authorities to impose fines on companies breaching the regulation.
  • Parental consent will be required to process the personal data of children under the age of 16 for online services; can vary per member state, but it will not be below the age of 13 (Art. 8).

Who Does GDPR Impact?

While the new GDPR regulations were designed to protect the rights of EU citizens, it essentially impacts everyone on the web. That’s right, everyone! This is regardless of where a business is established or where its online activities take place. If your website is processing or collecting data from EU citizens, then you must abide by the GDPR regulations.

GDPR impacts everyone

Here are just a couple examples of websites located outside of the EU that would still be impacted:

  • A WordPress community site that collects personal information for each user profile.
  • A WordPress theme shop that has customers sign up for accounts to purchase themes or plugins (sales and billing data).
  • A WordPress blog that has a newsletter subscription widget or lets visitors comment.
  • An ecommerce (WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads) store that sells products online.
  • A WordPress site that uses analytics software.

You can probably see where we are going with this. Unless you’re explicitly blocking all EU traffic, which most of you probably aren’t, then your site will fall under GDPR regulations.

If you’re wondering whether your company is already GDPR compliant, the team over at Mailjet created a handy GDPR quiz. We also recommend checking out The GDPR Checklist.



Consequences of Not Complying with GDPR

If your business doesn’t comply with GPDR you can get sanctioned up to 4% of the annual worldwide turnover or fined up to €20 million (the higher of the two), per infringement. There is also a tiered approach to fines. For example, a company can be fined 2% for not having their records in order, not notifying the supervising authority and data subject about a breach, or not conducting an impact assessment. (Art. 83)

If you’re a small ecommerce shop or WordPress developer these fines could be devastating!

How to Make Your WordPress Site GDPR Compliant

Now for the reason you’re probably all reading this blog post, and that is how to make your WordPress site GDPR compliant. Unfortunately, unlike our normal tutorials, we can’t give you a simple step by step tutorial as becoming compliant will vary per site. But here are suggestions to get on the right track, as well as additional things to be aware of.

1. Hire a Lawyer

If you have any concerns about GDPR compliance (which most of you probably will) we always recommend hiring a lawyer, even if it’s just temporarily. This is one of those areas we strongly urge you to not try and tackle on your own. A lawyer can provide you with legal advice specifically tailored to your situation. If you get this wrong, it could result in hefty fines.

2. Review Your Data Collection and Processing Workflow

We recommend going through your entire WordPress site and determine where data collection and processing occurs, as well as where that information is stored, and for how long. This includes things such as:

  • Collecting personal information on an ecommerce checkout page or WordPress registration page.
  • IP addresses, cookie identifiers, and GPS locations.
  • Various services such as Google Analytics, Hotjar, etc.

After you pinpoint all of these you need to confirm that you’re asking for the visitor’s permission, as well as disclosing how the data collected is used.

3. GDPR Project Merging into WordPress Core for Developers

Dejlig Lama & Peter Suhm originally started working on a project called GDPR for WordPress. This was going to provide plugin developers with a simple solution to GDPR validate their plugin and offer website administrators the overview and tools to handle the administrative tasks involved with being GDPR compliant. However, the great news is that this is now becoming part of WordPress core.

You can now follow the GDPR Trac tickets as well as the roadmap for GDPR compliance. They are hoping to have everything finished by the May 25th, 2018 deadline. This is just as important for WordPress users as it is for developers, as GDPR compliance is going to be a two-way street. WordPress users will need new features built into plugins they are already using such as checkboxes, prompts, etc. to make sure they are compliant when collecting data.

With Gutenberg and now these GDPR changes, there is a lot coming down the pipeline for WordPress 5.0.

4. Update All Legal Documents

With GDPR it’s now time to update your terms and condition pages, privacy pages, affiliate terms, as well as any other legal documents or agreements you might have. You can no longer have forms without checkboxes. In other words, there must be a way for the user to specifically consent. Gone are the days of just throwing terms in a link at the bottom and assuming the user will read them.

The conditions for consent have been strengthened, and companies will no longer be able to use long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese, as the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent. Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it. (Source: EU GDPR)

Again, this is an area we recommend roping in a lawyer. If you’re just running a simple blog, at least use a tool like iubenda or something similar to generate stronger privacy policies.

5. Offer Data Portability

According to Art. 20, any business that collects data must also offer the ability to for the user to download it and take/transfer the data elsewhere.

The data subject shall have the right to receive the personal data concerning him or her, which he or she has provided to a controller, in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format and have the right to transmit those data to another controller without hindrance from the controller to which the personal data have been provided.

Make sure you have a system in place yet to provide a user with a downloadable file of their data if requested (.csv, .xml, etc). If you can’t currently offer this, you might want to hire a WordPress developer.

6. Self-Certify Under Privacy Shield Framework

Due to the fact that many websites collect data from all over the globe and with tighter restrictions on personal data, many companies are now certifying under the EU-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks. These were designed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the European Commission and Swiss Administration, to provide companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union and Switzerland to the United States in support of transatlantic commerce.

Read more about the benefits of self-certifying under the Privacy Shield.

7. Check Your WordPress Themes, Plugins, Services, APIs

Any WordPress plugins or theme specific features you have installed that collect or store personal data must be updated for your site to be fully GDPR complaint. If you’re a WordPress developer, you should hopefully already have a plan in place for implementing GDPR changes for users. We’ll include some popular plugins and configurations below, along with direct links to how they’re handling GDPR.

Contact Form Plugins

One of the easiest ways to comply with GDPR is to simply add a required checkbox to your contact form that allows the user to consent that their submitted data is being collected and stored.

Contact Form 7 GDPR

Contact Form 7 GDPR

Remember that simply not storing the contact form entries in WordPress is not enough. If the contact form submission data is being sent to an email inbox, you’re still collecting and storing the data even though it might not be in your WordPress database. Therefore, you still need consent. Check out additional WordPress contact form plugins.

Comment Plugins

Even comment plugins are collecting personal information. So just like with contact forms, you should add a consent checkbox.

WordPress native comments

WordPress native comments

The WordPress team is also discussing adding an opt-in for cookies on comments. (#43436).

Marketing Plugins and Services

Everything from newsletters plugins, survey plugins, quiz plugins, push notification plugins, and your email marketing software will be impacted by GDPR.

Analytics, Tracking, Remarketing

Any third-party service or plugin that collects data. This includes things such as Google Analytics, A/B testing plugins, heat map services, remarketing platforms, etc. In regards to Google Analytics itself, it might be recommended to anonymize the IP.

Anomymize IP in Google Analytics

Anonymize IP in Google Analytics

As of April, Google launched a new data retention settings for Google Analytics. These controls give you the ability to set the amount of time before user-level and event-level data stored by Google Analytics is automatically deleted from Analytics’ servers. You can access these settings under Admin → Property →  Tracking Info → Data Retention.

Google Analytics data retention

Google Analytics data retention

eCommerce Solutions and Payment Processors

Any type of WordPress ecommerce solution is of course heavily impacted by GDPR as these collect sales data, personal information, user account data, and have integrations with third-party payment processors.

Beyond the documentation above, we also highly recommend checking out this great blog post on 12 ways to make your WooCommerce website GDPR compliant.

Community Plugins

Community plugins, forum plugins, and membership plugins a lot of times store additional personal information aside from the integrated WordPress signup process.

Third-Party APIs

Even third-party APIs collect data. A good example of this is Google Fonts. Most of you probably are using Google Fonts, whether it’s baked into your WordPress theme or you manually added it. You really have to look into each API and find out data the provider is collecting. In some cases, data collection is allowed for lawful bias without consent (Recital 49).

This can be a lot of work and downright confusing as some companies, even Google, might not provide simple yes or no answers. Check out this conversation between developers on whether or not Google Fonts are GDPR compliant. You could always host your Google fonts locally on your own CDN and this then resolves the issue.

We’ll keep this post updated as some WordPress plugin developers are currently working on adding GDPR compliance features. Or even more scary, many haven’t even started yet. If you have concerns regarding a plugin you have running, check with the developer directly to see how they plan to handle GDPR.

Helpful GDPR WordPress Plugins

Below are a few helpful plugins we also recommend checking out that can help:

  • WP Security Audit Log: One of the best ways to really see what’s going on with your WordPress site. We usually recommend this for security reasons but it can be an excellent way to see what is collecting data, such as user registrations, comments, contact form entries, etc.
  • WP GDPR Compliance: This plugin assists website and webshop owners by providing common tips to comply along with integrations with some popular plugins such as Gravity Forms, Contact Form 7, WooCommerce, and WordPress native comments.
    WP GDPR Compliance

    WP GDPR Compliance

  • GDPR: Another plugin that assists you in getting compliant. Features terms of service & privacy policy registration consent management, rights to erasure & deletion of data with a confirmation email, data processor settings and publishing of contact information, right to access data from admin dashboard and export, cookie preference management, and much more.
  • WP GDPR: This plugin creates a page where users can request access to their personal data, stored on your website.

GDPR Audit

Beyond confused? 😜 Don’t worry, GDPR can be a lot to wrap your head around and it’s a massive change in regards to personal data collection. If you’re concerned about your own WordPress site, it might be wise to invest in a GDPR audit by an expert, preferably one that works solely with WordPress. We recommend checking out the GDPR Audit from Angled Crown.

How is Kinsta Preparing for GDPR?

Due to the fact that Kinsta is based in Europe, we’ve had tighter restrictions on our data from the very beginning. But as is every company right now we are revisiting each of our policies with our legal team regarding data processing, collection, and storage; as well as our WordPress site and blog to ensure we are fully compliant by the deadline. Kinsta utilizes Google Cloud Platform which is fully committed to GDPR and we are reviewing all of our third-party vendors and integrations to arrange for similar GDPR-ready data processing agreements.

A few changes coming soon will include:

  • Appointing a Data Protection Officer (DPO).
  • Offering new ways to comply with data portability.

As a Kinsta client, you are referred to as a data controller. This means you are responsible for implementing appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure and demonstrate that any data processing is performed in compliance with the GDPR.

Summary

As you have probably grasped by now, GDPR is a really big deal! It’s going to impact almost every WordPress site on the web. With the deadline fast approaching, we encourage everyone to take the time, do your research, and ensure your site is fully compliant. If you don’t, you could be looking at some pretty hefty fines!

Got any questions about GDPR and WordPress? Drop them below in the comments. Or if you know of another popular WordPress plugin that is already GDPR compliant let us know and we’ll add it above!



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