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The Proactive Solution to Data Protection That Every Modern Business Should Be Using Data has exploded over recent years, making privacy and consent more important than ever before -- both morally and legally.

By Sharon Harris Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Privacy by design goes much further than simple data protection. It's a holistic approach to privacy and security that works seamlessly across the systems, operations and infrastructure on which organizations rely. It asks hard questions about the way companies collect, store and manage information and doesn't stop until the answers are clear. In short, privacy by design is a response to the growing need for transparency and accountability where data is concerned — but a proactive one.

Related: Establishing Trust in 2021: Innovation and an Imperative for Embracing Data Privacy, Transparency and Security

What makes privacy by design an obligation, as opposed to an option?

You could make the case that "by design" is just one way to tackle the problem of privacy, and that therefore, businesses have no obligation to use it. Understanding the flaw in that argument requires a deeper look into the implications.

If you aren't operating out of a privacy by design framework, then by definition, your approach to security is an ad hoc one. Essentially, it means only dealing with data protection issues if and when they arise. It's feasible to go this route and still maintain compliance and avoid major issues — at least for a time. The problem is that you never know when that time will be up.

This is a dilemma that companies can't shy away from. There is a pressing need to innovate and embrace technology in order to stay relevant, and yet information management is still akin to a wild and unpredictable frontier. Today's economy is all about data, and every interaction that companies have with that data represents both an opportunity and a threat. Here are some of the dangers on the "data frontier:"

  • The "need for speed" that accompanies information sharing often leads to recklessness.

  • Data doesn't just land somewhere and stay there. It's dynamic, moving and being repurposed frequently — in other words, it's easy to "misplace."

  • Data is created and accessed at millions of unique locations, every one of which is a place for something to break, be overlooked or deliberately leveraged for malicious ends.

Those are just a few examples of data being prone to mismanagement, and the consequences can be devastating. Data privacy and protection policies are seeing increasing scrutiny from all angles, including legislators, regulators, investors, internal stakeholders and consumers themselves. In other words, when a link in the privacy chain breaks, it isn't pretty, and it can cost you.

The punishment doesn't always fit the crime, either. It's common knowledge that giant corporations like Equifax and Facebook have been able to shrug off massive privacy scandals, but what's less well-known is the sad reality facing small businesses: A single data breach can easily cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars and mean permanent closure.

That's where the obligation comes in. Although it's technically possible to protect data in a piecemeal, boxes-ticked manner, doing so is a blatant disservice to everyone invested in your success, from funding partners to employees — and especially to your customers. The bottom line is this: Any strategy that doesn't involve privacy by design simply leaves too much to chance.

Does "by design" mean it's too late for organizations with established systems and protocols?

It would be fair to assume that based on the wording alone, but the real answer is no. Just because an organization didn't bake in privacy from day one doesn't mean they have to settle for something that's "good enough." In fact, privacy by design actually relies on constant updating, because the way data is captured, handled and stored changes as technology evolves. Building from the ground up, though, is an intense process that requires a cross-functional approach.

For organizations that want to make the leap, the first step is a full assessment of data practices across all touchpoints. Where does data live? How does it get there, how long does it stay, and who can access it? Is there transparency around collection and ownership? Does the company really even need that data? Once all of these questions (and more) are answered, a process can be undertaken to integrate systems and align policies in a comprehensive way.

Regardless of whether you're implementing privacy by design as part of a ground-up strategy or are completely renovating an existing system, it's vital to stay focused on user experience. No one wants to leave their valuables out in the open, but they also don't want a safe that takes an hour to open. Customers — both internal and external — are the heart of every business. Patiently working to find solutions that keep them secure and contribute to a positive, frictionless experience is the key to keeping them around.

Related: Can Employee Monitoring Be Done Ethically?

The trust factor

Breaking laws is bad for business, even when done unintentionally. Likewise, trying to put out a privacy-related fire usually burns up cash in the process, which can put companies in very stressful predicaments. The hardest thing to recover from, however, is the broken trust that happens as a result of those two things. Legal problems go away, after all, and there's always more money to go around — but like the fable of Humpty Dumpty demonstrates, there are some things that all the resources in the world just can't fix.

This means that companies need to protect their reputations at all costs, and in the context of data protection, the answer is privacy by design. Those that embrace it sooner than later are likely to emerge as leaders in the future of their industries.

Sharon Harris

CMO of Jellyfish

Sharon Harris is CMO of Jellyfish, working closely with global brands and their millions of customers worldwide to create the perfect digital partnerships. Over the last 10 years, she has operated at the executive level to help brands develop relationships and embrace digital transformation.

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