Pankaj Shah

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What is Privacy by Design in Web Development and Why it Matters



In today’s highly interconnected world, data is changing hands faster than ever. The internet and social media proliferation has seen the emergence of all kinds of digital apps and software meant to make business easier and life more bearable. While most of these technologies are beneficial, they also have some drawbacks.

One of the main challenges faced with all digital technologies is how personal data is collected, stored, and used by the entities running these digital offerings.

Most applications and software have limited privacy controls, while others intentionally collect sensitive personal data for marketing purposes without the users’ consent.

These concerns have seen the rise of data privacy laws, which now regulate how end users’ data can be collected, stored, or used.

Web developers have also adopted data privacy principles such as the Privacy by Design framework to help create quality and privacy-conscious products. We have covered more on this below.

What is Privacy by Design in Web Development - And Why it Matters

What is Privacy by Design?

Privacy by Design (PbD) is a popular product development concept commonly used when designing new software, technologies, or systems. According to the PbD framework, all data privacy issues must be anticipated, managed, and prevented before a single code is written. And since privacy is incorporated into the system by default, any privacy intrusion is prevented before it happens.

PbD came to light in Canada in the 1990s but has since been embraced widely across the globe. In 2018, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adopted PbD as part of its data protection law. Below, we have highlighted some PbD principles and what they mean for web developers.

Principles of Privacy by Design

Here are the seven principles established to help developers and organisations achieve high-end data privacy with their products.

  • Privacy issues must be preventive and not remedial. Similarly, all actions taken should be proactive, not reactive. Any foreseen privacy issue or risk must be addressed before it occurs.
  • Privacy is the default setting. Users don’t have to take any measures to protect their privacy. Instead, this should happen by default, as privacy should be incorporated into all systems.
  • Data privacy should be embedded into the design. Data protection should be rooted into the system or service as part of its primary practice, not as an add-on feature/service.
  • Complete functionality - (positive-sum and not zero-sum). PbD aims to avoid any compromises and trade-offs between its practices and other systems during implementation.
  • End-to-end security or lifecycle protection. Privacy by design ensures protection from the start throughout to the end. This means data is secured and protected when it enters the system, retained safely, and, where appropriate, deleted safely.
  • Visibility and transparency. Your privacy standards should be open and verifiable, making you/our business trustworthy of personal information.
  • Respect for user privacy by keeping data user-centric. The system’s design should keep the interest of individuals paramount by giving them substantial control over their personal information and a notice of their rights.

The GDPR and Privacy by Design

GDPR is the European Union law that seeks to give individuals more control over their data. The regulation protects all EU citizens from data privacy issues such as exploitation/inappropriate use of personal information and data breaches due to poor data security and cybersecurity measures.

GDPR’s main agenda is to reshape and harmonise data privacy laws to protect personal information better. The law ensures that the personal data collection and processing of all the EU citizens remains within the power and control of the respective individuals. GDPR also takes a broader definition of what personal identification information constitutes. For instance, under the law, IP addresses and cookie data deserve the same protection as the person’s name, Social Security number, and personal address.

Besides Privacy by Design being an independent framework embraced by developers and project managers, it’s also one of the guiding principles of the GDPR.

This concept is discussed in detail in GDPR’s data protection by design & default requirements.

What Privacy by Design Mean for Web Developers

Privacy-by-design concept pressures web developers to design quality and functional websites that meet the highest data privacy standards. Below are some of the rules and regulations that developers must stick with to ensure compliance:

Be Accountable to the Privacy Frameworks and All Legal Boundaries

As a web developer, you want to keep up with the privacy frameworks and legislation that applies to your end-users. Tools such as privacy impact assessments (PIA) will help you stay on track by reducing privacy risks and ensuring you have an effective strategy for handling personal information.

Pay Attention to the Ethics

Every web designer needs to consider the ethical aspects of their designs, projects, and systems. For instance, how open do you want your design to be? Or what kind of data do you need? It would be best if you aimed to prevent any overuse or misuse of personal information. Transparency and honesty are the other virtues that should be present throughout the design. You want to follow all the critical design steps without compromising vital processes, as this could introduce loopholes that may hunt you down the line.

Embrace Effective Communication

Great developers prioritise effective communication throughout the design phase. You want to involve customers or end-users in the development stages and get to know their views, preferences, complaints, etc. The end-users should know who will be collecting their personal information, how their info is stored, and if any third party can access such data. Once the design is over, communication never stops. In case of a data breach, it’s necessary to communicate to end-users while being transparent with what happened. Similarly, you should communicate your consumers’ rights and how they can exercise them, for instance, how to withdraw their consent.

Remove Requests to Any Unnecessary App Permissions

As a developer, you can be tempted to collect as much user data as possible, but this could land you in trouble. A rule of thumb is to eliminate any unnecessary app or site permissions. Permission to access the users’ contacts, microphone, location, etc., may imply privacy invasion, especially when they aren’t needed to render the respective services.

Implement Solid Data Security Measures

At the heart of data privacy are solid security measures that ensure only the intended persons have access to the necessary data. There should be a limit to what and how much data someone has access to. This concept, popularly a principle of least privilege, effectively curbs data privacy issues due to abuse of privileges. As a web developer, you must incorporate privacy strategies in your design that will ensure data leakage is prevented at all costs.

Your design should also allow for erasing all personal information whenever users deactivate or delete their accounts. Additionally, web developers should minimise the amount of data they collect, lessen the data shared with third parties and pseudonymise all personal information where possible.


Whether designing a web application or a business website, you always want to prioritise data privacy at all stages of development. Pay keen attention to the privacy by design concept and implement the critical privacy measures to ensure your end users’ data are safe and used for only the intended purpose. When done right, this ensures compliance with regulations such as GDPR, not to mention better governance that helps avoid data breaches, lawsuits, fines, and reputational damage.

Article by Pankaj Shah: DCP Web Designers London

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