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by Carlos Schults.

Today we’re here to talk about data regulations and data compliance solutions. Why does all of this matter? HIPAA, GDPR & PCI what is the difference?

When it comes to online applications, protecting your users’ data is one of your most pressing concerns. First of all, it’s the right, ethical thing to do. Secondly, data leakages lead to serious reputation damage that you certainly don’t want your organization to suffer. Last but not least, failing to protect users’ data can lead to dire financial and legal consequences. You’ve heard of GDPR, right?

Well, you also probably know that GDPR isn’t the only data compliance regulation around. It’s certainly the best-known one, but there are others you should know about and ensure your company complies with. This is what today’s post is about. We’ll compare three data regulations, covering what you need to know about each one:

  • The already mentioned GDPR
  • PCI

We’ll start by talking, in general terms, about data regulations themselves. You’ll find out what they are and what their purpose is. After that, we’ll walk you through the three mentioned data regulations, explaining each of them in turn.

Let’s get started.

Data Regulations 101

Why are data privacy regulations a thing? Why do they matter so much? It’s time to get into the details.

What Is the Value of Personal Data?

We live in the era of data. We, as a civilization, have never generated so much of it. And due to techniques such as data analysis and data science, we can now extract much more value from the data we have than would’ve been possible in the past.

Data literate organizations can use the data they already have to build predictive models. They can better understand—and influence—consumer behavior. And they can identify worrisome trends and prevent problems.

Due to all of that, data has become an extremely valuable asset—not only for the organizations themselves, but for malicious individuals. When personal data gets in the wrong hands, terrible consequences such as financial fraud can ensue.

Data regulations are a solution to this problem.

What Are Data Regulations?

Data privacy regulations are laws, standards, or rules that dictate how organizations that handle consumer data should go about it. Generally speaking, data regulations are good news for us as consumers. They give us rights such as:

  • knowing when and to what purpose our data is being collected
  • being able to learn exactly what a given organization knows about us
  • gaining the right to have our data deleted from their databases

Why Should You Care About Data Regulations?

While data regulations are great for consumers, they pose a new set of challenges to organizations that handle and process user data. Organizations must ensure they obey the regulations that apply to their jurisdiction, under penalty of heavy fines and other consequences.

Data regulations hit technology organizations particularly hard, since data is their bread and butter. Thankfully, this work can be easier for an organization that adopts an adequate data compliance tool. More on that later, though. For now, let’s walk you through our list of data regulations. For each one of them, we’ll cover:

  • its definition and history
  • what the main takeaways are
  • how it can affect your organization


The first item on our list is HIPAA, which is a privacy rule that originated in the United States.

Definition and Brief History

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It’s a privacy rule that protects health information and medical records.

The United States Congress established HIPAA. It’s been in effect since 2003.

Main Takeaways

HIPAA’s main purpose is to protect citizens’ health information and medical records. It also ensures patients have rights over their protected information, including:

  • authorizing or not authorizing the use of their health data
  • getting copies of their data
  • knowing their health data can only be disclosed to authorized parties, and for health purposes—for example, getting the right treatment

What does HIPAA protect? Everything that’s considered protected health information (PHI). These are pieces of health-related information that someone might use to identify a patient. For instance:

  • full name
  • telephone number
  • email address
  • physical address
  • date of birth
  • facial picture

Who Does It Affect?

Who must comply with HIPAA? The so-called covered entities that collect and process PHI. Those include:

  • health plans
  • doctors
  • dentists
  • clinics
  • company health plans


Our second item is GDPR, certainly the best-known of data privacy regulations.

Definition and Brief History

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It’s a European Union law that regulates the collection and processing of user data.

The law was adopted in 2016, but it started being enforceable two years latter. Since then, the GDPR has been an inspiration for similar regulations around the world.

Main Takeaways

Unlike HIPAA, GDPR isn’t restricted to health-related sensitive data. Instead, the GDPR is much broader, covering any kind of sensitive data.

Here are some of the rights the GDPR gives users.

  • Companies need explicit consent from users before collecting and processing their personal data.
  • Users can withdraw the consent later.
  • Users have the right to request access to their data.

GDPR considers personal data everything that can be associated with an identified or identifiable individual.

Who Does It Affect?

GDPR affects a much broader set of organizations than HIPAA does. In a nutshell, if an organization does business in the European Union or simply stores data from EU residents, it must comply with the GDPR.


Last but not least, we have PCI DSS, which is related to online payments.

Definition and Brief History

PCI DSS means Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard.

Unlike the two previous items, PCI DSS (henceforth PCI, for short) isn’t a law. Instead, it’s an information security standard. The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council established it, and it’s been in place since 2004.

Main Takeaways

The main purpose of the PCI is to ensure credit card payments are processed in a safe way, so customers are protected and card fraud is reduced. PCI imposes security measures on data collection and on the storing and transmission of credit card data.

Who Does It Affect?

All companies that store and process card information should comply with PCI. Interestingly, since PCI’s not a law, there’s no official legal entity to enforce compliance.

In practice, though, enforcement falls to the major credit card providers, such as Visa, Mastercard, and more.

HIPAA versus GDPR versus PCI: How Do They Compare?

We’ve just covered three important regulations or standards related to data protection. How do they compare?

PCI is certainly the odd one out of the three, since it’s not a law but an industry standard. If you have a web app or service, chances are you accept payments by credit card. In such cases, you must comply with the standard. Using a third-party payment processing solution makes sense in most cases. It won’t eliminate the requirements of compliance to PCI, but it might reduce them.

HIPAA is the most specific of the three items we’ve seen today. It will apply to you only if you’re a covered entity, handling data from patients from the United States.

GDPR is certainly the broadest of all three. Since it both protects a wider set of data and a larger population (residents of the EU), you’re likely to have to comply with it.

So, what should your next step be?

For starters, continue learning about these and other regulations. Consider specialized training if you judge that’s necessary. At some point, though, it’ll probably start to be worth it to consider a specialized tool to help you handle data compliance, you can also access the in browser demo today.

Post Author

This post was written by Carlos Schults. Carlos is a consultant and software engineer with experience in desktop, web, and mobile development. Though his primary language is C#, he has experience with a number of languages and platforms. His main interests include automated testing, version control, and code quality.


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