Happy 5th Birthday, GDPR: Unveiling the Worst GDPR Compliance Breaches

Happy 5th Birthday, GDPR: Unveiling the Worst GDPR Compliance Breaches

As technology advances and cyber threats evolve, companies must remain vigilant, implementing proactive security measures and adhering to privacy principles by design.

Data privacy has become a paramount concern for individuals, businesses, and regulatory bodies in the ever-evolving digital landscape. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was introduced in 2018 to establish a comprehensive framework for safeguarding personal data and empowering individuals with greater control over their information. However, despite its stringent regulations, some organizations still need compliance, leading to significant breaches.

Jim Allum, Macro 4, Happy Birthday GDPRJim Allum, Director, Commercial and Technical at Macro 4, says – “One of the key goals of the GDPR was to make businesses more accountable for managing and using personal information. The purpose was to give individuals more authority over their data. GDPR compliance allows businesses to demonstrate transparency and build customer trust. “However, our analysis implies that the GDPR may have had the opposite effect regarding trust. Most IT leaders feel that the regulations have made people more suspicious about how their data is used. This is possibly because people are better informed now about how their data could be compromised or misused. Media headlines about major data privacy breaches and huge GDPR non-compliance fines at well-known brands will have reinforced the lack of trust. All this means that organizations need to work harder than ever to demonstrate that they’re managing data within the rules.

This article delves into some of the worst GDPR compliance breaches, shedding light on the lessons learned and the ongoing challenges in ensuring data protection.

Also Read: Top Factors to Consider While Choosing a SIEM Solution

Equifax: A Massive Security Incident

One of the most infamous GDPR compliance breaches occurred in 2017 when Equifax, a major credit reporting agency, suffered a massive security incident. About 143 million people’s sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses, were made public due to the hack. Equifax faced severe backlash for its slow response and insufficient security measures, highlighting the importance of proactive security protocols and timely disclosure. 

Lesson Learned

Organizations must prioritize robust security practices, regularly assess vulnerabilities, and promptly communicate breaches to affected individuals to minimize the impact of potential data breaches.

British Airways: A Costly Cyber Attack

In 2018, British Airways became the victim of a sophisticated cyber attack that compromised the personal and financial details of around 500,000 customers. The breach resulted from a malicious script injected into the airline’s website, redirecting customers to a fraudulent site for data collection. The incident resulted in a record-breaking fine of £183 million, emphasizing the significance of implementing stringent cybersecurity measures and regular audits. 

Lesson Learned

Organizations must conduct thorough security audits, employ strong access controls, and continuously monitor for suspicious activities to detect and prevent potential data breaches promptly.

Marriott International: A Prolonged Data Exposure

Marriott International, a renowned hotel chain, experienced a prolonged data exposure from 2014 to 2018, affecting an estimated 500 million customers. The breach compromised guests’ personal information, including names, contact details, passport numbers, and reservation details. The incident revealed a need for proper data governance and organizations’ challenges securing vast customer data stored across multiple systems.

Lesson Learned

Companies must adopt comprehensive data governance frameworks to manage and secure personal information across their infrastructure, including data mapping, access controls, and encryption practices. 

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: A Breach of Trust

2018 The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal unfolded, raising concerns over the social media giant’s data protection practices. Millions of Facebook users’ personal information had been illegally collected and used for political advertising. The incident highlighted the need for clear user consent mechanisms and transparent data handling practices by technology companies.

Lesson Learned

Organizations must prioritize obtaining explicit user consent, providing clear privacy settings, and exercising responsible data-sharing practices to establish trust and protect users’ personal information.

Google: Unauthorized Data Collection

In 2019, Google received a significant fine of €50 million from the French data protection authority, CNIL, for violating GDPR. The breach involved a lack of transparency and inadequate consent mechanisms related to personalized advertising. To undermine the concepts of data minimization and user control, Google emerged to have gathered and processed user data without receiving explicit authorization.

Lesson Learned

Companies should prioritize transparency in data collection practices, provide clear consent options, and ensure users have meaningful control over the use of their data.

eduardo azanza veridas, Happy Birthday GDPREduardo Azanza, CEO at Veridas, says – “Without question, GDPR has modernized data privacy and protection, and now, with the addition of biometrics, the regulation takes on even more significance as it celebrates its 5th anniversary. Article 4 of GDPR defines biometric data as a form of personal data; therefore, businesses must carefully and securely manage it.


GDPR breaches Data

Uber: Concealing a Data Breach

Uber, the ride-hailing giant, faced criticism in 2016 for concealing a data breach that exposed the personal information of 57 million users. The breach involved unauthorized access to names, email addresses, and phone numbers, along with the theft of driver’s license information for approximately 600,000 drivers. Uber’s failure to disclose the breach promptly raised concerns about accountability and transparency.

Lesson Learned

Organizations must promptly disclose data breaches, cooperate with regulators, and take immediate action to mitigate the impact on affected individuals.

Cathay Pacific: Prolonged Data Exposure

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific encountered a major data breach in 2018, affecting approximately 9.4 million passengers. The breach exposed many personal data, including passport details, email addresses, and credit card information. Cathay Pacific faced criticism for inadequate data protection measures, prolonged detection of the breach, and delayed notification to affected customers.

Lesson Learned

Organizations need robust cybersecurity measures, proactive threat detection systems, and swift incident response plans to minimize the duration and impact of data breaches.

“With the rise of biometrics and AI, the stress on data protection and privacy has never been more critical. Questions should be asked of biometric companies to ensure they are following GDPR laws and are transparent in how data is stored and accessed.

Trust in biometric solutions must be based on transparency and compliance with legal, technical, and ethical standards. Only by doing this can we successfully transition to a world of biometrics that protects our fundamental right to data privacy.”- adds Eduardo.

Also Read: Key Principles for Building a Robust Data Integration Strategy

Yahoo: Massive Data Breach

One of the largest data breaches in history occurred at Yahoo between 2013 and 2014, affecting an estimated 3 billion user accounts. The breach exposed users’ names, email addresses, phone numbers, and encrypted passwords. Yahoo faced significant backlash for its delayed discovery and notification of the breach, highlighting the importance of timely incident response and comprehensive security monitoring.

Lesson Learned

Companies should invest in advanced threat detection systems, conduct regular security audits, and prioritize timely breach notifications to minimize the potential harm caused to individuals.


These GDPR compliance breaches further emphasize organizations’ challenges in protecting personal data and maintaining compliance. The evolving threat landscape and increasing cyber-attack sophistication require continuous efforts to strengthen data protection measures. By learning from these breaches, organizations can better safeguard personal information, enhance transparency, and prioritize user consent, ultimately fostering a culture of privacy and trust in the digital age.

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