What Startups Need to Know About User’s Online Privacy

April 20, 2016

9:00 pm

Online privacy concerns are hitting big this year. Starting with the notorious Apple vs. FBI case and the recent confessions from Uber about giving up private data of some 12 millions users to governmental agencies and smaller case of data breach and unsolicited personal data usage, the world of online web is no longer seems as secure and private as it used to be.

A recent report published by the University of Pennsylvania showed that despite the common statement from companies that users “are happy to trade their personal data for discounts”, most of them actually feel powerless to stop marketers from harvesting and using their private data for their own benefit.  As a result, more and more users prefer to use anonymous browsers like Tor, switch to alternative search engines, which don’t track your behavior online (e.g. DuckDuckGo) and are well-familiar with VPN tools and the newer modulating IP VPNs.  The usage of ad blocking software is rising dramatically from year to year and WHOIS is rumored to be the next target towards making the web “a safer and better place”.

Advanced Privacy as the New Selling Point

Over 90% of consumers feel at least somewhat concerned about their data privacy and how exactly a certain company uses their personal records.  The usual “this site uses cookies” and “privacy policy” disclaimers are no longer sufficient.

Some companies e.g. WhatsApp are now using their advanced privacy guarantees as a major selling point. To company recently announced that they had bolstered the default encryption settings for over 1 billion users, so that all the messages are now only accessible to the sender and recipient.

“The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”

Understanding What Data Your Really Need to Collect

Most startups, however, do have the urge to collect user data, especially during the early stages. However, should you really harvest and store all the information you may get or it’s better to settle for less and keep your users less concerned?

When outlining your data collection policy, ask yourself the following questions for a start:

  1. Why do I need any information at all from my customers?
  2. What type of information do you want/need regarding records of their purchases?
  3. How do I want to store the information I get?
  4. How do I plan to protect customer information and data?
  5. Do I know the law about this?

Keep the Focus On Data Streams Instead Of Data Lakes

Depending on the amount of user data you have decided to collect, at certain point you’ll face a new challenge – turning those piles of data into actionable intelligence. And don’t forget, you will still have even more data coming.

Going through petabytes or even exabytes of data to extract the valuable nuggets of information may be a costly venture for your company. That’s another point towards refining your data collection policy and taking only what you really need.

Know the Laws and Respective Regulations in Your Area

Failing to comply with the local data protection and privacy laws may not only cost you a pretty penny, but result into denial in funding or losing clients. As Françoise Gilbert, a partner with the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, noted:

“Most startups are expected to have the same level of protection, awareness and maturity in place as its larger clients. “If it cannot meet the client’s standards regarding the protection of personal information, the startup will not be able to sign a contract”.

You should not rely on the fact that you are small enough to fly under the legal radar. It doesn’t matter if you are a five-person company or a large corporation if certain legal violations took place. This mistake may be too costly for you to ignore.

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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien

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