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Privacy by Design (PbD): A Definitive Guide and Why It Matters

5 minute read
Anas Baig avatar
Not a day goes by where you don’t hear about another cybersecurity or privacy incident in the news and online media.

Cyberattacks and data breaches have become an everyday norm. Not a day goes by where you don’t hear about another cybersecurity or privacy incident in the news and online media.

Companies such as Yahoo, Alibaba, LinkedIn, Facebook and several others have witnessed massive data breaches affecting hundreds of millions of users and costing billions of dollars in damages.

Poor Digital Architecture

What’s worrisome is when we hear how government institutions that we trust to secure our personal and sensitive information are frequently attacked simply because they didn’t have a secure digital infrastructure or Privacy by Design (PbD).

The lack of privacy procedures has compelled regulators around the globe to introduce data privacy laws that regulate the way businesses collect, process and share the personal information of users.

European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most stringent data protection law that restricts the way organizations process the personal data of individuals. The law is well-regarded across the globe, so much so that governments and states have taken inspiration from the law and formulated their own version. Even with data privacy laws enacted, companies are still failing in digital resilience and curbing the growing menace of cyberattacks.

With cyber defenses progressing, so are cyberthreats, reiterating that privacy and cybersecurity are to be included in the initial design stages of digital architecture, products, processes and services. The entire process is known as PbD.

Related Article: The GDPR Consequences We Haven't Talked About

Privacy by Design 101

PbD is a privacy framework based on proactively designing and integrating privacy elements in the initial stages of IT systems, servers, networked infrastructure, businesses’ departments, communication systems, data stores and daily operational business practices.

The term PbD was initially developed in a joint report on privacy in 1995 by Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Dutch Data Protection Authority, and Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research and published in 2009.

Globalization has created an environment in which individuals and employees feel compelled to exchange information more freely, putting firms at risk of data security breaches. Since organizational boundaries are no longer rigid, it's challenging to track who is accessing data and who is storing and sharing it with others.

Principles of Privacy By Design

PbD methodology comprises seven foundational principles that the Information and Privacy Commissioner have developed. These principles should be at the core of every business and integrated within business operations.

1. Proactive not reactive; preventative not remedial

The first principle states that businesses should take proactive steps toward protecting personal, sensitive and special categories of data. Additionally, businesses must be equipped with the right technology that anticipates privacy risks and potential issues that might arise shortly before these issues and risks take place.

This approach is true not only in terms of system design, but also in terms of fostering a culture of privacy awareness throughout the business.

Learning Opportunities

2. Lead with privacy as the default setting

The second principle states that systems, digital infrastructure, products, services and business data handling procedures should be designed to protect personal data automatically. Businesses shouldn’t rely on individuals to take preemptive steps to secure their personal information (although individuals should do so); instead, lead with privacy as the default setting and avoid any vulnerabilities.

3. Privacy embedded into the design

The third principle states that businesses should integrate data privacy and security mechanisms throughout their systems, services, products and corporate practices. Businesses should also carry out privacy impact and risk assessments to ensure their current defenses are working efficiently.

4. Full functionality — positive-sum, not zero-sum

This fourth principle, also known as "win-win," is all about avoiding trade-offs meaning business activities shouldn’t argue whether they can employ privacy or security. Instead, no trade-offs should be made to achieve both.

5. Ensure end-to-end security

The fifth principle emphasizes deploying strong security measures in the initial designing stages when critical business infrastructure is being crafted. The entire concept of ensuring security measures are in place should be applicable throughout the data lifecycle, where data should be disregarded and carefully deleted when no longer required.

6. Visibility and transparency — keep it open

The sixth principle states that businesses should ensure that the purpose and goal can be independently verified regarding business activities and any technology they employ. Also, data owners should have visibility of what data is being processed and why it is being processed.

7. Respect for user privacy — keep it user-centric

The seventh and last principle of PbD states that businesses should honor the privacy rights of individuals. Interests of individuals should be prioritized in the design phase and execution of any system or service, for example, by providing strong privacy defaults, giving individuals controls, and guaranteeing prompt notifications for keeping all stakeholders on the same page.

Bottom Line: Privacy Should Be Front and Center

In this complex digital business environment, leading privacy and security concepts and methodologies that ensure the safety of user data should be crucial to a business and its operations.

Applying PbD means cross-functional teams comprising of legal, marketing, sales, design, customer support and others are equipped with features that take care of privacy and cybersecurity implications. PbD teaches businesses to be more proactive rather than reacting to situations that could have been avoided from the start.

About the author

Anas Baig

With a passion for working on disruptive products, Anas Baig is product lead at SECURITI.ai. He holds a degree in computer science from Iqra University.