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How to prioritize online user privacy design

online user privacy design

Privacy is a more important issue than ever for designers. With recent regulations on data protection and privacy — such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) with its recent expansion via the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) — there’s a growing need for digital products that respect users’ data. For designers and website creators, this means creating work that empowers people to make more informed decisions about their privacy, and giving them easier, more accessible ways to control their data. Let’s look at some of the key legislative requirements and explore how designers and web creators can advocate for better protection of their users’ data, activity and personal information through their website design.

How to prioritize online privacy design

01. Design for transparency in data collection

Data minimization is one of the major requirements set forth by the GDPR and CCPA. It includes explaining why you’re collecting certain data, and asking for no more than is necessary for that purpose.

For designers when designing a website, there’s opportunity here for creating forms that clearly explain why you’re collecting certain information. Generally, the more sensitive or private the information is, the more effort should be put into explaining why it’s needed. These explanations can include why you need the data, its benefit to the user, and the security measures that will be taken to handle the data.

Here’s a great example from Mailchimp. During the onboarding process, they clearly explain why, according to international laws, they need a physical address when setting up your account.

Here’s another great example from Dropbox. This part of the sign-up user flow asks for a preferred email if a user has signed up using Apple’s “Hide My Email” feature (which creates a randomly-generated email). The prompt explains the benefits of using an email address that your collaborators can recognize.

Designing or redesigning products with user privacy in mind allows you to question existing UX practices, and to explore whether there are better alternatives for getting the same information. For example, if you need to ask for someone’s age, having them provide their date of birth would be considered asking for more information than you need. Not only are people more likely to provide false information when asked for data that seems too personal, it could also be unnecessarily risky if the data is not securely stored and protected.

02. Receiving clear consent to automated data tracking

Another method for sites to collect data on users is through the use of cookies. Cookies are tracking scripts that record our site visits and activity. Under the GDPR, users have to provide active consent, such as opting in, to being tracked by most cookies.

For designers, empowering users to opt in (or stay opted out) to cookie tracking and allowing them to revoke access at any time is crucial. Users’ consent should be given as a conscious choice, rather than as something that they may not be aware of (such as with pre-checked boxes), and it should be just as easily withdrawn if users change their minds at any time. Designers should also provide information about the types of cookies used by the site, so that users can make informed decisions about their preferences.

A great example can be found on Slack’s site. The cookie consent form clearly explains each category of cookies (strictly necessary, functional, performance, and targeting), and allows users to opt in or out using a toggle switch.

The CCPA doesn’t require users to consent to cookie tracking, but it does ask that sites include a link labeled: “Do Not Sell Or Share My Personal Information.” Despite the laws around this, users are struggling to opt out of the sale of their personal information, from not being able to find the link to not receiving confirmation that the opt out was honored, at times through the use of deceiving dark patterns.

There are opportunities to design a more straightforward experience around cookie tracking. Some groups want to bypass individual opt-outs completely by creating a Global Privacy Control. This initiative, which would be built either into a browser or as a browser extension, would notify sites on behalf of users as to whether or not they want their personal information to be sold or shared.

03. Creating user-friendly and accessible privacy policies

Privacy policies inform users about what a company plans to do with their information. Both the GDPR and CCPA require that when making a website, creators provide a privacy policy with clear and accessible information.

Privacy policies should encourage people to read them, so that they’re informed about how their data is being used. This means avoiding long pages of text that use complex legal terminology and small lettering, which users usually give up on trying to understand. Many sites stick to clear and straightforward language, with clearly-labeled sections that are easy to scan. Some privacy policies also give contextual examples related to how they collect data across their site.

The New York Times’ privacy policy is inviting and easy to understand. You can easily navigate between sections using the sidebar, and learn about their data practices with examples taken from their different digital platforms.

online privacy design - new york times

Broken up into bite-sized sections and accompanied by illustrations and icons, Google’s privacy policy even includes explainer videos that help present the content in different ways.

04. Giving users full control of their data

Under both the GDPR and CCPA, users have the right to access their personal data, receive it in a readable format, and request that it be deleted.

This allows designers to create user-friendly experiences that give users full control of their data — including being able to browse, change, and delete any of the data that a site holds. Many tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, offer automated systems where people can download a copy of their personal data.

giving users full control of their data as part of online privacy design

It’s important that once users download this data, that they’re able to understand what exactly a company has collected about them. This means designing the information to be accessible and intelligible.

And finally, part of having full control over your data is being able to delete it entirely. There are opportunities here to reassure users that their data is in fact deleted after they close their account.

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