Sensitive Data Vs Personal Data

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Updated January 5, 2023

If you are new to the occasionally scary world of online privacy, you may look to compare sensitive data vs personal data. After all, many of the best websites and online shopping platforms have adopted various practices that impact consumer privacy, which is where distinctions between types of data come into play. So what are the differences between personal and sensitive data, what does this mean regarding online privacy, and how do you shift things in your favor? Keep reading to find out.


  • These are types of data tracked by regulatory agencies like the CCPA and GDPR.
  • In this respect, personal data refers to basic information used to identify a natural person shared without explicit consent, like a social security number.
  • Sensitive data is also used to identify a person, but the data is typically unique, such as union membership information, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin.

Differences Between Sensitive Data and Personal Data

When learning the definition of data privacy and security, the matter of sensitive and personal data is paramount. This especially holds true if you are staring down a CCPA breach notification. Personal data refers to any piece of information used to identify a person, even if you are comparing the Microsoft AIP vs DLP. Sensitive data is also data used to identify a person but refers to specialized groups of data, in case you are wondering what title 2 net neutrality is.

Insider Tip

These definitions vary slightly according to where you live, so check with a local regulatory agency.

Beyond these subtle differences, there are many starker contrasts between the two.

Actual Data

Personal data refers to broad information used to identify a person. This includes the usual suspects like name, age, address, phone number, email address, and more. It also refers to biometric data, CCTV footage, eye scans, fingerprints, and just about anything else that can be used to successfully identify a specific person.

Sensitive data can also be used to identify a person, but the exact details are a bit more “in the weeds,” as they say. This type of data includes cultural and racial information, political affiliations, union memberships, and many other items of information that go beyond simple personal data and into the realm of the ultra-personal.

Processing Requirements

This leads many to an obvious question. If both types of data are used to identify specific people, then why create a distinction in the first place? This all falls down to the specific processing requirements of regulatory agencies instituted by the GDPR in Europe and the CCPA in California and states with similar legislations.

STAT: In the most basic terms, personal data is any piece of information that someone can use to identify, with some degree of accuracy, a living person. (source)

Each organization typically sets up different teams of processors for each data type, as the fines and legal penalties involved with sharing personal data are much different than those involved with sharing sensitive data.

Data Types FAQs

Is sensitive data the same as personal data?

All sensitive data is personal data, but not all personal data is sensitive data, though both are not available for unauthorized access.

What is non-sensitive personal data?

Non-sensitive personal data is basic personal information such as credit card numbers and phone numbers. This does not refer to mental health data or the history of legal claims.

What is the impact on organizations?

Companies looking to skirt the law will face different legal penalties for, say, sharing credit card information of a natural person than a social security number, IP address, or trade union membership.
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