Privacy by Design Principles: Why Data Protection Should Always Come First

We all care about our privacy and expect to have it respected. That sense of freedom and being safe from intruders matters now more than ever.

But our right to anonymity is violated almost every single day. From data breaches to companies that collect and sell personal information or systemic surveillance, the list of intrusions goes on and on.

However, the concept of privacy by design is sparking new conversations and gaining more traction.

If you want to know how companies should protect your privacy and handle your data, you need to get familiar with privacy by design principles.

Let me tell you all about them.

The seven principles of privacy by design

Officially introduced with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), privacy by design is a general desired approach when creating new technologies and systems.

It requires all businesses to implement non-invasive privacy features and functions from the very beginning. For example, this could translate into a company creating a smartphone that doesn’t use or allow tracking systems.

To better understand the concept, let’s dive into the seven principles.

1. Proactive not reactive; preventive, not remedial

The first principle states that any company should focus on being proactive, with privacy the foundation for product development, not just an afterthought.

By getting out of the reactive mindset, organizations can anticipate privacy-related threats and prepare for them. And while having a clear plan on how to respond to any security breach that affects people’s data is essential, development teams first need to bake-in all the best techniques to avoid or minimize privacy risks.

Any system, process, or infrastructure that uses personal data should place privacy as a top priority from the beginning of the design process.

As a user, it’s hard to nearly impossible to know what goes on behind closed doors. But you identify businesses with privacy mindsets. They’re often the ones who are obsessed with their customers, and they’re always interested in collecting customer feedback and strive to meet their needs, including those related to privacy.

2. Privacy as the default

Regardless of the business they’re in, companies should automatically protect your data. This way, you never have to struggle to make sure they won’t expose your private information.

The ideal is for privacy features to be built into any system, tool, or device, guaranteeing your anonymity no matter what.

To see if a company cares about your privacy, check and see if they restrict data sharing, minimize data usage, and give you the possibility to opt-out from sharing sensitive information.

3. Privacy embedded into design

In order to protect you, teams shouldn’t add privacy features at the very end of a development cycle, or even worse, after a product has been launched.

Privacy by design is an integral part of both the system’s infrastructure and a core business practice. This should be the mindset every step of the way, from the ideation to completing a product or service.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how useful or efficient a product is if it sports privacy design flaws and security vulnerabilities.

One way to see if the product you’re using abide by the privacy by design principles is to check if all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Read carefully and notice if a company’s privacy policy aligns with the product features, services, values, and other company practices. That tells you if they’ve managed to infuse privacy by design principles into everything they do, from people to processes and technologies.

4. Full functionality – positive sum, not zero sum

Most ventures focus on product functionality and implementing the latest tech stacks. Privacy concerns are at the bottom of their checklist (if at all) when they start writing specs, moving fast and breaking things.

Yet, the privacy-embedded-into-design principle suggests functionality and privacy go hand in hand and are equal partners. Not offering a great user experience on privacy’s account is not an option.

If a proposed concept threatens users’ privacy in any way, developers should look for other solutions and alternatives. No privacy risk should be overlooked.

Next time you’re excited about an app or a platform, check and see how much you can control the data you feed them and to what extent the company has taken customer privacy into account.

5. End-to-end security – full lifecycle protection

Privacy and security always go together. Without robust security, there can be no privacy. But what does information security imply?

Information security involves confidentiality, integrity, availability, transparency, and resilience of the systems that store it. Additionally, users should have full control of their data processing and the possibility to opt-out at any moment. This doesn’t happen with connected cars, for instance.

Personal data needs to be secured and protected from the moment it enters the system. Then it can be encrypted, stored safely, and deleted at the end of its lifecycle.

Here are some of the information protection mechanism organizations can implement:

      • Only collect data they need and have legal grounds to.
      • Use GDPR-compliant deletion or destruction methods for end-to-end protection.
      • Integrate pseudonymization or anonymization techniques.
      • Classify data and processing operations based on access profiles.
      • Rely on encryption standards to minimize the risk of stolen data.

Whenever you want to know more about how your data is being used, stored, or deleted, you can request a service provider to give you this information. You’ll learn from their reply if they are serious about privacy and security.

6. Visibility and transparency – keep it open

Many businesses are opaque about their design and development practices. They’d rather keep you in the dark and ask for forgiveness in the event of a data breach. While openness would gain them consumer confidence, it would also force them to stay accountable.

But people should know what happens to their data and how it is protected.

Visibility and transparency are all about showing the practical side of things. One of the keys to guaranteeing privacy is to be able to prove it. This way, users can verify that data processing aligns with the stated claims. Additionally, each company should allow people to send complaints, ask questions, or request changes.

Promoting transparency and visibility requires adopting measures such as:

      • Making Privacy and Data Protection Policies public.
      • Developing and publishing concise, clear, and comprehensible information clauses regarding data processing, the risks users may be exposed to, and how to exercise their rights on data protection.
      • Integrate pseudonymization or anonymization techniques.
      • Sharing the identity and contact details of the data controller.
      • Setting accessible, simple, and effective ways of communication, compensation, and complaints.

What we can see is that some brands have started to become more transparent about data collection.

And because we like to lead by example, here at CyberGhost, we’ve been publishing our Transparency Report ever since 2011.

7. Respect for user privacy – keep it user centric

The final principle emphasizes once more that user privacy needs to be the number one priority. After all, when you collect and store personal data, the risk of having it fall into the wrong hands becomes exceptionally high.

Even if companies collect data, that doesn’t mean they own it. Data belongs to the users who generated it, and they can grant or withdraw their consent at any time.

Out of respect for user privacy, data operators should offer measures such as:

      • Strong privacy defaults: Users are informed of the consequences for their privacy when they try to change default settings.
      • Appropriate notice: Specific consent is required for the collection, usage, or disclosure of personal information, and users may withdraw their consent at any time.
      • User-friendly options: Interfaces are to be human-centric, so that informed privacy decisions can be taken.

The principle involves designing user-centric processes, apps, products, and services, anticipating privacy needs.

At the same time, users need to play an active role in managing their data and controlling what corporations do with it. And companies can’t interpret a lack of pressure as a disinterest in privacy on the customer’s side.

A promise to solve the digital world’s privacy problems

While significant steps have been taken to improve user privacy, we still have a long way to go before becoming the norm. For now, privacy by design is a theoretical ideal, and it needs to be translated into widespread practices.

Until we get to live in a world where all companies enforce privacy by design principles, securing your digital privacy and anonymity is still up to you.

Luckily, you can rely on using a performant VPN, learning how to stay safe online, and making sure you set strong passwords for your accounts.


What’s your take on privacy by design principles? Do you think the companies making the digital products you use every day respect them?

Let me know in the comments section below.


Leave a comment

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*