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Privacy by design - why should you care?

Privacy by design - why should you care?

Quite a few people say that Big Data is the new oil, and there is something to that. We can mine data, and sometimes there happens to be a data leak. We can also gather data and use it to create value. By analogy, data management can't be uncontrolled and spontaneous. If handled without care, it might end up being a threat to brand reputation and user safety.

Luckily, you can take care of that by looking into privacy by design. Wondering what it is and how it works? No worries, our article should help you get the hang of it in no time! Check it out, and start building an honest relationship between your product and the people who use it.

What is considered to be personal data?

First, we need to establish what personal data is. Its definition is fairly simple. In short, it's everything that allows you to identify a person. Such a definition might cause a few obvious examples to come to mind, such as as someone's full name and their address, but in reality, it's much more than that. In fact, a person can be identified through their IP or their cookie ID.

Privacy by design meaning - What is privacy by design?

So, what is privacy by design? The privacy by design definition states that it's an approach to systems engineering that was initially developed by Ann Cavoukian, the former Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. It was developed in 1995 and published in 2009. At its core, it's about being mindful of personal data protection and privacy throughout the entirety of the engineering process, not just a part of it.

Privacy by design - Core principles

According to Ann, professionals who are interested in privacy by design should follow several key rules. Most importantly, one should prioritize proactivity and functionality, as well as ensure that customer data is safe throughout the entire product lifecycle. In addition, Ann puts an emphasis on transparency. She viewed it as the cornerstone of building trust. In the following section, we will elaborate on each of the principles Ann outlined in her publication.

Proactive, not reactive

It's important that you prevent data misuse before it actually happens. In practice, it means looking for things that have the potential to cause a data brach. Whether it be a specific feature, an internal system, or a third-party contractor that you are planning on working with, you need to figure out how using it might compromise user privacy.

Having identified potential problems, come up with reliable ways to prevent the said problems from occurring. In addition, you might want to prepare procedures that should be used in case a data breach does occur.

Treat privacy as the default setting

Users shouldn't have to worry about going through the settings of a website or an application in order to make sure that their data is secure. Instead, the highest level of data security should be ensured by default, regardless of whether the user interacts with the settings.

Integrate privacy into product design

Privacy-related matters aren't to be treated as an afterthought. They shouldn't be an extra feature that you just tack on at the end of a project. Instead, they should be integrated into product design from the very beginning of the design process.

Ensure full functionality, no trade-offs

If you're designing something, you should make sure that data security features don't detract from things like user experience or existing security protocols. In fact, they should work seamlessly with every single design element.

Guarantee end-to-end security

Remember to care for user data throughout the product lifecycle. Start with the moment a user signs up. Do they know what data they are sharing with you? Can they choose not to do so? Later on, they should find it easy to go back to these settings and change them.

Next, come up with ways to get rid of data that you no longer need. Once that is taken care of, ensure that users can ask you to delete their data from your systems. Aside from their data, they should be able to delete their accounts in their entirety. Sure, it's natural that you don't want them to leave, but keeping them in your system against their will is just going to result in frustration.

Prioritize visibility and transparency

Without transparency, you won't be able to make your users trust you. If you want to build customer relationships based on trust, you should treat transparency as a top priority. In other words, you should make sure that they know what you're doing with their data.

Sharing detailed documentation about how your company handles data privacy isn't enough. After all, it's probably filled with jargon and complicated phrasing that an average user simply won't understand. As an alternative, you could add a section about data privacy to your website and ensure that it's written in plain language. That way, you will be able to ensure that both you and your users are on the same page regarding this very important topic.

Be user-centric

You should always have the user's best interest in mind. So, make sure that they are always in control of their data. Better yet, hear them out and seek their engagement in the data management process. By doing so, you show them that you respect them, which is bound to have a positive impact on your users' perception of your brand.

Speaktacular is a platform that's centered around user anonymity. Privacy is at the very core of its design. You don't need to sign up or input any personal information to publish a post.

Why should I care about data privacy?

Product owners can't be careless in their approach to data. In some cases, it might bring about some serious issues. The reason for that is simple. Keeping users' data safe has become mandated by law. In the European Union, it's the GDPR. It applies to every organization that processes or intends to process the personal data of European citizens in any way, shape, or form. Obviously, GDPR is not the only privacy law you need to comply with. Depending on where your organization is located and whose data is processing, you might have to comply with a wide range of other privacy regulations.

Do users care about data privacy?

One could argue that internet users don't care about data privacy. It's quite the opposite, though. In 2020, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that more than a half of Europeans are concerned about criminals or fraudsters accessing their data without their knowledge.

Because of that, you should be transparent about what you do with your users' personal data. Make it as easy as possible for them to delete it. In addition, allow them to choose what data they want to share with you in the first place. Aside from the things that you have to ask them about because of the law, consider extending it to things like personalized recommendations and browsing history.

Implementing such things might take a while, but it's definitely worth it. It will prevent your users from feeling frustrated, manipulated, and even anxious. Instead, they will feel secure and informed. In the long run, it should have a rather positive impact on the reputation of your brand.

So, what should I do?

If you don't know where to start when it comes to incorporating privacy by design into the design process, use the GDPR as a point of reference. It outlines six things that we should take into account when designing any product that uses personal data. It's up to the designer to incorporate these principles into the design process and ensure that they are abided by.

Lawfulness, fairness and transparency

You should process data in a fair and transparent manner, as well as ensure that everything you do in relation to data processing is legal. Aside from that, it's important that you keep the user in the loop regarding how you process their data and what you do to guarantee its safety.

Purpose limitation

Don't collect user data just for the sake of collecting user data. Do it with a specific purpose in mind. For instance, if you're collecting user's phone numbers, you might be doing it to provide them with a safe and easy way to recover their account. You shouldn't ask them for their phone number and then store it away simply because you can.

Data minimization

Before you ask your user for any additional information, ask yourself if you really need it. The amount of data you process should be just enough for you to achieve the purpose for which you collected it in the first place.

When designing a form, prioritize data minimization. What data do you really need? What do you need it for? It should be communicated from the start so that the user knows what's going on.


The user's data needs to be accurate and up to date. The easiest way to ensure it is to give the user an option to update and delete their information when needed. Ideally, the entire process should be automated. That way, there won't be any bottlenecks when it comes to transporting the data from the user to your systems.

Storage limitation

When your user uploads their data to your system, you should anonymize it as quickly as possible. That way, if a malicious third-party does get their hands on it, they won't be able to use it against your users.

Integrity and confidentiality

Last but not least, user data has to be protected against misuse. On top of that, you should do your best to prevent it from being accidentally deleted or corrupted.

Data privacy is worth paying attention to

More and more markets perceive data privacy regulations to be an absolute necessity. At the same time, users are becoming increasingly aware of their fundamental right to privacy and the possible consequences of not treating it seriously.

Now, you might want to start incorporating the principles of the privacy by design approach into your day-to-day work. It won't be an easy task, but, as we've already mentioned, it's of utmost importance. It's key to creating a positive brand image and building positive long-term relationships with potential and existing users alike.

Szymon Grabowski

Head of Design

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