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Organisations are failing to understand the emotional impact of data breaches

hayes connor solicitors

At the end of last year, our managing director Kingsley Hayes revealed the key data privacy trends that our firm has seen since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. You can read more about these trends here. One thing we are seeing is that organisations are not taking the emotional impact of data breaches seriously. Many of which we trust to look after our sensitive information.

What are we seeing when it comes to the emotional impact of data breaches?

At Hayes Connor Solicitors, we have received more than 2,500 enquiries from customers who have suffered as a direct result of a high profile data breach. That’s in the last six months alone.

Every day we are also helping the victims of smaller data breaches who are miserable and upset because of a data breach.

All too often, the victim of the data breach will have tried to engage with the organisation that has committed the violation. But they will have been rebuffed or offered a wholly inadequate excuse.

Almost every organisation fails to recognise the stress, anxiety, upset and anguish caused by the data breach.

A personal data breach is a 21st-century theft

If a criminal came into your home and stole your private information, you would be distressed. So why should you feel any less upset at having your online data taken?

Being the victim of a crime can have a substantial impact on you mentally and physically. For some people, the effects can include a lack of sleep, feeling ill, unsettled or confused. Stress can also affect your friends, your family and your job.

We’ve seen cases where experiencing a data breach has resulted in adverse life events. For example, having to move house or area, losing a job, relationship stress and separation, and dislocation from friends and family. All of which can lead to a diagnosable psychological injury. And this is often happening months after the initial breach was revealed.

What do the experts say?

According to Victim Support:

“The effects of crime can also last for a long time, and it doesn’t depend on how ‘serious’ the crime was. Some people cope really well with the most horrific crimes while others can be very distressed by a more minor incident”.

Furthermore, at Hayes Connor we recently spoke to renowned clinical psychologist Professor Hugh C. H. Koch – visiting professor in law and psychology at Birmingham City University School of Law – to find out more about the typical psychological effects experienced by victims of data breaches. He said:

“Data breach victims typically experience high levels of anxiety, specific to the data breach but also generalised to other aspects of dealing with correspondence, telephone and digital communication and payment for services. Victims experience social anxiety, with difficulties dealing with friends and neighbours, tradesmen, shopping transactions and can develop oversensitivity or paranoia in their communications with others. They can also develop varying aspects of mood disturbances or depression especially including poor sleep and tearfulness.”

What does the law say?

Thankfully, over the last few years, people are waking up to the reality of mental health. And there is a greater awareness about the lasting effects of physiological suffering and anguish.

Crucially, the law understands the damage that can be caused by worry and upset. So today, you can make a compensation claim if you have struggled emotionally following a data breach. Even if you have not lost money.

Organisations must educate themselves about the emotional impact of data breaches

Should a data breach occur, it’s vital that an appropriate response is made. But, in our experience, too many companies and their representatives (be they legal or insurance based) are still responding with a pre-packaged “we won’t do it again” approach.

However, it is vital that businesses not only do more to meet their data privacy responsibilities, but that they also provide an adequate response where they fail to do so.  And that requires a greater understanding of the full impact of privacy violations. Because these can be significant and of a psychological nature.

Without such awareness – and appropriate measures to address the distress, anguish and anxiety that can be caused by data breaches – more and more customers will look for help to protect their privacy. And claim back from organisations where they have suffered.

Leading by example

At Hayes Connor, we want to reduce the number of data violations taking place across the UK. To do this, we are helping to raise awareness of this issue. We are also educating people and businesses to prevent similar mistakes from happening.

For more advice on how to keep your data safe, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Alternatively, if you have been the victim of a data breach or cyber fraud, find out how we can help you to recover any losses. Or give us a call on 0151 363 5895 to discuss your case in more depth.