The Web Designer’s Role in Protecting Client Privacy
As a web designer or developer, you play a big role in protecting your clients as well as the people who will eventually use the website(s) you build. Yet, most web designers I talked to don’t feel like protecting their client’s privacy is part of their job. Most believe that their work revolves only around how the website looks and works, and not security and/or privacy concerns. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the digital world of today where hackers don’t take a rest.
To build a website, you need access to business-critical resources such as business strategy information, servers, databases, passwords, and usernames. If this kind of information lands on the wrong hands, the attackers can easily incapacitate your client’s business. At the same time, a security vulnerability on the website you create can expose user personal data; data that the unscrupulous type can use against the website users as well as the company behind the website. Data breaches can also destroy your career in the blink of an eye.
In 2015, the web developer who created the Alpine Bank website was held accountable for over $150,000 in damages. The court insisted the developer didn’t maintain the website, encrypt customer information, or install anti-malware software among other things. On the other side of the planet, an Australian hosting and web development company shut down because the court held the organization accountable for over $100,000 in damages. Point is, cyber attacks are quite destructive and expensive, and you can easily be held responsible as the web designer or developer.
As such, being responsible for the control and protection of client and user data is a critically important area for all web designers and developers. Yep, that includes you buddy.
In today’s post, we shine light on the important role web designers and developers play in protecting client and end-user privacy. Play your role well and you’ll become the web designer and developer everybody desires to work with. You can even make it clear on your resume that you take data privacy and security seriously.
That being said, let’s get down to business and please share your thoughts and concerns in the comments.
Web Designers Should Protect Clients with the GDPR
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, offering stronger rules on data protection so as to end the era of digital feudalism. As a web designer or developer, you must familiarize yourself with the GDPR since it lays down rules on how you treat your customer’s digital privacy. And while the regulation was put into place by the European Union (EU), it affects digital properties all over the world.
For this reason, designers and developers should look to build websites based on a privacy-first approach, or what is known as the Privacy by Design framework. Privacy by Design simply means data protection through technology design. The principle of Privacy by Design, which is in the GDPR, includes measures such as data encryption, anonymisation, user authentication and technical implementation of the right to consent or object among other things.
Privacy policies and GDPR compliant notices protect you, the end-user and the company. Without such measures, you risk heavy fines and lawsuits that could take down not only your career as a web designer/developer, but also the clients you work with. Other steps to creating a GDPR complaint website include appointing a data protection officer (who is essentially the webmaster, developer, designer, existing member of your staff etc), easy opting out and forms that support active opt-in among other things according to the 10 Easy Steps to GDPR Compliant Web Design article by Pulse Solutions.
Choose Privacy Over Personalization
Long time ago, websites were very basic, with nothing much to offer in terms of providing personalized experiences to users. Things have changed tremendously, and today you can offer your consumers personalized experiences depending on the data they provide. Personalization involves retrieving information from the users so that you can serve your customers better using your website.
The more data you collect, the more data you have to keep safe using a secure website, which means your client needs to be extra vigilant to keep data breaches at bay. It also means that you need to inform your client on the security measures they must take to keep all the data the website collects safe. Still, personalization is extremely important as far as providing satisfying user experiences go.
And there are many factors to consider as far as personalization goes. For instance, even if a user is sitting behind a VPN, keep in mind that you will still be able to track what they do if the website requires said user to log in. And this applies to a large variety of websites such as email providers (hello, GMail), ecommerce websites, financial websites and social media sites.
That aside, any website designer or developer looking to provide a modicum of privacy and security to their clients should incorporate a reputable VPN solution to their workday. Using a VPN on a daily basis is especially important if you – at times – work outside of secured home of office network. A good example of how a VPN can come in handy is if you’re developing a website for the entertainment industry.
Say, for instance, you’re building a website for a popular movie studio or singer. The project will obviously involve transfer of property such as music files, undisclosed tour dates, full movie clips and so on. If this kind of material gets to the wrong people, you can only imagine the kind of damage it can cause. Leaked music files and movie clips wouldn’t hold well with your client, don’t you think?
Web Designers Must Work Hand-in-Hand with Developers Now More Than Ever
To create a secure website for clients and users, web designers must collaborate with web developers when building the website. Previously, web designers needn’t necessarily work with the developer; their primary concern was the front-end, while the developer focused on the back-end. Today and in the future, the web designer and developer must work together to decide the kind of data to collect as well as how to retrieve, use and protect it.
Fruitful collaboration between the web designer and web developer should be based on how the website will look and work as well as how you’ll manage and secure the user’s personal data. Remember, protecting the user is protecting your client, which leads us to our next and final point.
The Front-End Plays a Role in Protecting Client Privacy
A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability that goes unnoticed can force even a Fortune-500 company to shut down their website resulting in loss of brand reputation and the much-needed revenue.
While a majority of attackers focused primarily on the back-end in the past, the front-end (which, by the way, is the web designer’s forte) is no longer safe from a slew of new attacks that take advantage of external web applications and microservices connected to a website.
For this reason, web designers should pay extra attention to APIs, HTML5 elements, iframes, cookies and Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS). All these mechanisms are rife with security vulnerabilities, which means the web designer of today must be security conscious so as to protect websites from client XSS.
In the past, only domain registrars and web hosting companies took the blame for website attacks. However, things have changed nowadays and the web designer/developer can take the fall when attackers compromise a website.
You need to educate yourself on all matters website security to protect your client’s privacy and provide better service long before you even start writing code. The security conscious web designer/developer is well-sought after in the digital world of today especially when you consider there’s at least one hacker attack every 40 seconds, according to a report by Kaspersky.
Have a question or suggestion? Please share in the comments.
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