Over the past couple of weeks, state agencies, international organizations, and local initiatives have launched applications to track housing damage, provide food assistance, and offer health services in the wake of the Beirut explosion. These are incredibly important initiatives, but they should also take the necessary steps to protect users’ personal data. Out of necessity, many of these emerging applications have been quickly developed and deployed. Their quick development can jeopardize personal data, which includes gender, date of birth, religion, and marital status.
When developing an application, privacy implications should be considered from the outset of the design process and re-evaluated during all cycles of application development to avoid excessive data collection and limit the possibility for surveillance. Beyond the importance of protecting the right to privacy, adequate privacy measures help earn users’ trust. Privacy should not be viewed as an obstacle to functionality, but rather a way to reduce these conflicts. We have provided a few suggestions on measures that these burgeoning applications can take to protect user privacy.
Work to ensure the security of users’ information
Developers should draft a clear plan anticipating potential security issues that impact users’ right to privacy. For example, security in transit and data storage policies are necessary during the design phase because they will help developers avoid accidentally storing personal information in a public cloud instead of in an isolated container. Hastily built applications often contain security flaws, which threaten users’ privacy. Therefore, applications should be secure by default to ensure that third parties do not have access to stored data.
To protect users’ personal information from being intercepted by trackers or packet sniffers, you should implement end-to-end encryption. Using HTTPS for web traffic is a first step. When using communication protocols, you should always use the more secure option, such as Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) instead of File Transfer Protocol (FTP) for file sharing, and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol Secure (SMTPS) instead of (SMTP) for email. While end-to-end encryption is not a blanket solution for securing users’ communication, it will help protect data in traffic.
Provide a means for users to view, alter and export their data
Developers should be transparent about the data that they collect and give users’ access to their data as well as the ability to limit it and export it. First, developers should clearly present the user with all the data that the application is collecting. At the same time, users should have the ability to select the type of data that is collected so they can decide whether or not they are willing to share specific information. If the data is not necessary for the application, developers should not request it from their users.
This could be presented in a separate page within your application where a user can see exactly what data is collected, and have the option to limit the collected data. This page should also explain what data is absolutely necessary for the application to function. Providing transparency and visibility over the data will help earn users trust. Trust is key.
Your users are clients; they make your digital solution work. Respecting user’s privacy should always be a priority. If your digital solution relies on users’ personal data, you must ensure that the data is not easily accessible to malicious actors. There are daily leaks, exploits and hacked accounts. To protect users’ personal data, you should prioritize privacy from the outset of the design and development process, instead of treating it as an afterthought at the end.
Feature image via Reuters.