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What App Developers Should Know About GDPR Compliance

There is a price for everything, and the loss of privacy is the price for downloading and using apps on smartphones. As security technologist and cryptographer Bruce Schneier, aptly observes, walking around with a smartphone is like carrying a tracking device 24/7.

The smartphone revolution also brought on app development, with contemporary life revolving around mobile applications. This is especially true for Millennials and Gen Zers, whose desire for information at the press of a button remains unchanged over the years.

For instance, at least 92% of young people in the EU-27 use mobile phones to access the internet away from home or work. The forecast for Europe in 2021 is the use of over 522 million smartphones.  

Despite this widespread use of smartphones, a recent Eurobarometer survey found that  67% of Europeans worried about not being in control of personal information they provide online, and over 90% of them request the same data protection rights across the EU, despite where their data is processed.

These worries led to an agreement on a data protection standard named General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was approved by the EU parliament on April 14, 2016. Thereafter, GDPR regulations came into force on May 25, 2018, and were added to the law on data protection and privacy in the EU and the European Economic Area.

As these regulations impose new obligations on collecting, storing, or processing personal data of people living in Europe, app developers for Europe need to understand their obligation to comply with GDPR, and also the impact of GDPR on app development.

On the other hand, understanding the detailed requirements of GDPR is complicated, with the law extending to almost 90 pages in length. The details of the law also disclose that GDPR will apply differently to different apps according to their function or the service they provide. Therefore, app developers need to understand how GDPR generally applies to mobile apps, before developing products for post-GDPR Europe.

For instance, the GDPR does not state what an app can and cannot do, but it regulates how an app developer can process personal data via an app.

Obtain Informed Consent, Provide Opt-In and Opt-Out

The critical moment of customer engagement is at the start, when a customer agrees to opt-in to data sharing as outlined by the terms and conditions. GDPR requires an app developer to obtain active, informed consent from apps users. When requesting specific information, developers need to inform users about the purpose of collecting such data and offer individual options, including opting out.  

Know and Protect Your User

As an app developer:

  • ensure you know what kind of data you hold for each customer.
  • ensure secure storage of information with proper protection.
  • ensure information is ready to be accessed at the right moment.

Ensure a Legal Basis to Process Personal Data

GDPR requires a valid reason for an app developer to collect, store or use some one’s personal data.

Article 6 of GDPR states six lawful bases to process personal data.

1. Consent: Advertising and an app’s interactions with customer devices specifically require customer consent.

2. Contract: Data processing activity should be according to terms of a contract.

3. Legal Obligation: Data processing should be for a legal obligation, such as an information security, employment or consumer transaction law.

4. Vital Interest: Generally happens in emergency medical situations, where data processing is needed to save a life.

5. Public Interest: Data processed by a government entity or an organization acting on behalf of a government entity.

6. Legitimate Interests: Customers expect an organization to process personal data, for marketing activities and fraud prevention. App developers need to confirm the necessity of obtaining and processing personal data for its functioning.

Adhere to The 6 Privacy Principles of GDPR When Processing Personal Data

1. Lawfulness, Fairness, and Transparency: Publish a legally compliant Privacy Policy for your app, giving customers concise, easily accessible, clear notice of all your data protection practices, in simple language.

2. Purpose Limitation: According to GDPR Article 18, app users can restrict processing of their data, by claiming:

  • Inaccuracy.
  • Unlawful processing.
  • Data being unnecessary for original stated purpose.

App developers must immediately stop processing and comply with customer request.

3. Data Minimization: When developing your app, don’t collect personal data you don’t need.

4. Keeping Data Accurate: Beyond building data accuracy into the app processing mechanism, encourage data accuracy by sharing the right to rectification and updating, within your Privacy Policy under data subject rights.

5. Storage Limitation: Personal data should remain in your database no longer than necessary for the purpose it was collected.

6. Integrity and Confidentiality: Personal data should be secure and protected against unauthorized or unlawful processing, accidental loss, or destruction and damage.

Be aware of a seventh principle of accountability, sometimes included in the list of principles.

Be Mindful of Data Requests and Permissions Needed

One easy way to avoid large GDPR fines is to always get permission from customers before using personal data.

Communicate Your Use of Data Through a Privacy Policy

Transparency and informing the public about how their data are being used are two basic goals of the GDPR.

The Right to be Forgotten

The GDPR provides mobile app users the right to the erasure of their data, when no longer needed for the original stated purpose expressed as the “right to be forgotten.” Customers can ask for changing or deleting their data in an unrecoverable way.

Despite stringent regulations on data collection and processing, GDPR is not a threat to app developers or businesses. It is only an opportunity for better understanding and efficacy of data use and protection of customer privacy.

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