What is PII?

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Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

What is PII?

Personally identifiable information (PII) refers to any data that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity, either alone or when combined with other information. This can include a wide range of data points.

How Does PII Work?

The key aspect of PII is identifiability. Information that is directly linked to an individual (e.g., name, social security number) inherently falls into this realm. However, even seemingly innocuous data can become PII when combined with other sources.  For instance, your zip code combined with your date of birth could potentially be used to identify you in a smaller community.

Types of PII:

  • Direct Identifiers: Data that directly identifies an individual, such as name, social security number, passport number, driver's license number, or email address.
  • Indirect Identifiers: Data that, on its own, may not identify a specific person, but can be used in conjunction with other information to do so. Examples include date of birth, gender, race, geolocation data (especially precise data), purchase history, and medical records.

Why is PII Important to marketers?

Modern marketing relies on data-driven personalization to deliver targeted campaigns and content that resonates with individual customers. While PII allows for highly personalized experiences, marketers must tread carefully. 

Individuals have a right to control their personal information. Overreliance on personally identifiable information or intrusive data collection practices can raise privacy concerns and even expose individuals to identity theft, fraud, and other security risks.

Data privacy regulations like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act)  strictly govern the collection, use, and storage of PII. Marketers who prioritize ethical data practices and obtain explicit consent are more likely to build trust and foster long-term customer relationships.

Who needs to know what PII is?

Anyone handling businesses, organizations, and individuals who collect or store personal data should understand PII and implement appropriate safeguards. More specific roles include:

  • Digital Marketers: Marketers who use customer data for targeted advertising should be aware of privacy regulations and prioritize ethical data practices.
  • IT Professionals: Those responsible for data security should understand how to protect customer data from unauthorized access, breaches, and misuse.
  • Legal/Compliance Professionals: Legal professionals play a crucial role in establishing and enforcing data security protocols and mitigating legal risks. 

Use PII in a sentence:

"To comply with data privacy regulations, the company implemented stricter procedures for collecting and storing customer PII."