GDPR & Collaboration: Are You Really Compliant using Slack, Box, Teams, etc...?

Before we can answer that question, we need to better understand GDPR (there are a lot of false narratives out there) and what your responsibilities are, and what your providers responsibilities are. Once we understand those, we can look at some specific articles of the GDPR that will highlight (and validate) the statements throughout this blog. Hopefully when you are done with this 6-7 minute read, you'll fully appreciate the concern you should have with your collaboration provider of choice (unless of course, it's already HighSide - but more on that later).

First things first...

GDPR governs the processing, storage and use of personal data for citizens of the European Union (and the UK). As most people are aware, it’s a regulation that has sharp penalties for non-compliance and governs just about all use of customer data. One of the reasons GDPR presents such a challenge to many businesses is that it takes a very wide view on what is considered personal data. For example, organisations now need to treat an IP or cookie information the same way they would treat someone’s passport number or national identity number. In the best of times, this causes serious headaches for security and compliance teams, but with Covid induced remote work the new-normal, things have changed once again.

Most will agree that the GDPR leaves a lot to individual interpretation, making it even harder (and more costly) on the business to ensure compliance. “Reasonable protection for personal data doesn’t really define much. Most everyone has a different definition of reasonable… Think about being told to drive a reasonable speed or else you’ll get fined; what you think is a reasonable speed is likely not the same as what the police officer would say.

Look, there are a lot of articles and blogs about GDPR, so I don’t need to belabor the point here. But, you should keep reading if you are a business with…

  • A presence in an EU country (and the UK)
  • No presence in the EU (or the UK) but customers / personal data of EU (and UK) residents
  • More than 250 employees
  • Fewer than 250 employees but… well, basically processes personal data of EU (and UK) citizens

TL;DR… everyone should keep reading.

I’m not here to give you advice or insight on how to structure your GDPR policies, or how to train your employees on handling of personal data… but I am here to give you a few key places to focus when thinking about your collaboration and data sharing system.

Before we start… the GDPR focus on two main “actors”, controllers and processors. In our scenario, you (the business) are the controller and HighSide (your data sharing, storage, and collaboration provider) is the processor.

What does the GDPR say about controllers and processors?

The GDPR draws a distinction between a ‘controller’ and a ‘processor’ in order to recognise that not all organisations involved in the processing of personal data have the same degree of responsibility.

‘controller’ means the natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body which, alone or jointly with others, determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data.

‘processor’ means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body which processes personal data on behalf of the controller.

If you are a controller, you are responsible for complying with the UK GDPR – you must be able to demonstrate compliance with the data protection principles, and take appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure your processing is carried out in line with the UK GDPR.

If you are a processor, you have more limited compliance responsibilities.

Controllers make decisions about processing activities. They exercise overall control of the personal data being processed and are ultimately in charge of and responsible for the processing.

Some controllers may be under a statutory obligation to process personal data. Section 6(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018 says that anyone who is under such an obligation and only processes data to comply with it will be a controller.

A controller can be a company or other legal entity (such as an incorporated partnership, incorporated association or public authority), or an individual (such as a sole trader, partner in an unincorporated partnership, or self-employed professional, eg a barrister).

What is a processor?

The UK GDPR defines a processor as: ‘processor’ means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body which processes personal data on behalf of the controller.

(hint: a processor is Slack, Box, Teams, etc)

Processors act on behalf of the relevant controller and under their authority. In doing so, they serve the controller’s interests rather than their own.

Although a processor may make its own day-to-day operational decisions, Article 29 says it should only process personal data in line with a controller’s instructions, unless it is required to do otherwise by law.

If a processor acts without the controller’s instructions in such a way that it determines the purpose and means of processing, including to comply with a statutory obligation, it will be a controller in respect of that processing and will have the same liability as a controller.

A processor can be a company or other legal entity (such as an incorporated partnership, incorporated association or public authority), or an individual, for example a consultant.


Well, now that we’ve gotten the “legalese” out of the way - it’s safe to assume that you are a controller. Lucky you, most of the responsibility falls on your shoulders, while processors get to simply tell you about their services, deliver their services and leave you with the security and risk challenges.

When choosing a collaboration platform, controllers (you) must weight a lot of factors. Not only are you on the hook for how your employees use and handle personal data, but you are on the hook to make sure your provider has the right controls in place to meet the GDPR.

... can you really be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the software vendors you are trusting your GDPR protected data to are always FULLY compliant?

I’ve got good news for you… with HighSide, you don't have to worry... we guarantee our handling of your sensitive & regulated data is always GDPR compliant thru our decentralized crypto & E2E encrypted platform.

HighSide lets you communicate internally and with external third parties through group and individual chat, voice, video & screen sharing - while also enabling you to save, share, and use sensitive & GDPR regulated data, files, folders, documents and more through one, secure platform. Leveraging HighSide’s revolutionary distributed encryption protocol and secure SaaS cloud, completely E2E encrypted data comes standard… as does GDPR compliance.

You have enough to worry about when it comes to GDPR and personal data protection, don’t let your data sharing and collaboration provider be one of those worries.

Let’s take a look at a handful of the articles from the GDPR and dissect how HighSide makes your life significantly easier.

Article 6. Lawful basis of processing

“The controller shall, in order to ascertain whether processing for another purpose is compatible with the purpose for which the personal data are initially collected, take into account, inter alia: appropriate safeguards, which may include encryption or pseudonymisation.”

Because HighSide is E2E encrypted, your data is never available to HighSide or any other third party. Organizations that are using HighSide’s platform don’t have to worry about how GDPR protected data is used, stored or shared by HighSide, eliminating a big stress for compliance teams. HighSide gives organizations the ability to collaborate, where appropriate, with comfort knowing any activity involving personal data is within compliance.

Article 25. Data protection by design and by default

“The controller shall, both at the time of the determination of the means for processing and at the time of the processing itself, implement appropriate technical and organisational measures.”

HighSide eliminates the need for compliance and security teams to determine technical requirements for the processing of data for storage or sharing. The E2E encrypted nature of the HighSide platform lets authorized users access personal data to complete their job without worrying about the security or safety of that information. Additionally, HighSide provides a full compliance suite that records immutable event logs ensuring a complete picture of who, what, when, and where data was accessed.

The centrally managed HighSide platform gives admins full control over data access, even as granular as setting acceptable physical locations for data usage. For example, many HighSide customers lock employees from accessing personal data unless they are in an approved location such as their home office or the corporate office. This simple (and patented) capability ensures you not only know what device and what user accessed personal data, but that you know where it was accessed from. Eliminate the risk of poor security hygiene (like viewing personal data on a train, in a coffee shop or at a pub) with HighSide’s built-in access control systems.

Article 32. Security of Processing

“The controller and the processor shall implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk, including inter alia as appropriate: the pseudonymisation and encryption of personal data”

HighSide’s E2E encrypted service delivers out-of-the-box compliance with Article 32 of the GDPR. Unlike other collaboration platforms and file sharing services, customers don’t need to pay more for a secure version of the service nor do they need to think about how to match risk level with security controls. HighSide ensures that all data is encrypted, all the time - in fact, HighSide isn’t technically the processor of the data since data is never decrypted nor can it be.

Article 34. Communication of a personal data breach to the data subject

“The communication to the data subject referred to in paragraph 1 shall not be required if any of the following conditions are met: the controller has implemented appropriate technical and organisational protection measures, and those measures were applied to the personal data affected by the personal data breach, in particular those that render the personal data unintelligible to any person who is not authorised to access it, such as encryption;”

GDPR provides strict guidance on how personal data affected in a data breach or leak must be communicated, and how notifications to those individuals must be handled. Without exception, notifying customers of a data breach drives a drop in trust and has a direct impact on revenues, public market valuation, and brand loyalty (impacting future revenues). When personal data is stored in the HighSide cloud, there is a zero percent chance  of a data breach (due to the E2E encrypted nature of the platform). With HighSide, organizations avoid one of the biggest impacts to their operations, data breach, and the notification requirements that come with it.

HighSide is the modern collaboration platform for security conscious teams. HighSide’s all-in-one business productivity app delivers security, compliance and productivity through decentralized crytopgrahy and E2E encryption - see for yourself, schedule a demo below.