4 min read

Concern around GDPR is palpable, but time is running out. It appears that many businesses don’t really know what they’re doing. At his Congressional hearing, Mark Zuckerberg’s notes read “don’t say we’re already GDPR compliant” – if Facebook aren’t ready yet, how could the average medium sized business be?

But the truth is that GDPR couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks in part to the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, the question of user data and online privacy has never been so audible within public discourse. That level of public interest wasn’t around a year ago. Ultimately, GDPR is the best way to tackle these issues. It forces businesses to adopt a different level of focus – and care – towards its users. It forces everyone to ask:

  • what counts as personal data?
  • who has access to it?
  • who is accountable for the security of that data?

These aren’t just points of interest for EU bureaucrats. They are fundamental questions about how businesses own and manage relationships with customers.

GDPR is good news for web developers

In turn, this means GDPR is good news for those working in development too. If you work in web development or UX it’s likely that you’ve experienced frustration when working against the requirements and feedback of senior stakeholders. Often, the needs of users are misunderstood or even ignored at the expense of what the business needs. This is especially true when management lacks technical knowledge and makes too many assumptions. At its worst, it can lead down the path of ‘dark patterns’ where UX is designed in such a way to ‘trick’ customers in behaving in a certain way. But even when intentions aren’t that evil, the mindset that refuses to take user privacy – and simple user desires – seriously can be damaging.

Ironically, the problems this sort of negligence is causing isn’t just leading to legal issues. It’s also bad for business. That’s because when you engineer everything around what’s best for the business in a crude and thoughtless way, you make life hard for users and customers. This means:

  • Customers simply have a bad experience and could get a better one elsewhere
  • Customers lose trust
  • Your brand is damaged

GDPR will force businesses to get out of the habit of lazy thinking. It makes issues around UX, data protection so much more important than it otherwise would be. It also forces businesses to start taking the way software is built and managed much more seriously.

GDPR will change bad habits in businesses

What GDPR does, then, is it will force businesses to get out of the habit of lazy thinking. It makes issues around UX, data protection so much more important than it otherwise would be. It also forces businesses to start taking the way software is built and managed much more seriously.

This could mean a change in the way that developers work within their businesses in the future. Siloes won’t just be inefficient, they might just lead to a legal crisis. Development teams will have to work closely with legal, management and data teams to ensure that the software they are developing is GDPR compliant. Of course, this will also require a good deal of developer training to be fully briefed on the new landscape. It also means we might see new roles like Chief Data Officer becoming more prominent. But it’s worth remembering that for non-developers, GDPR is going to also require much more technical understanding. If recent scandals have shown us anything, it’s that a lot of people don’t fully understand the capabilities that even the smallest organizations have at their disposal. GDPR will force the non-technical to become more informed about how software and data interact – and most importantly how software can sometimes exploit or protect users.

GDPR will give developers a renewed focus on the code they write

Equally, for developers, GDPR also forces a renewed focus on the code they write. Discussions around standards have been a central point of contention in the open source world for some time. There has always been an unavoidable, quiet tension between innovation and standard compliance. Writing in Smashing Magazine, digital law expert Heather Burns has some very advice on this:

“Your coding standards must be preventive as well. You should disable unsafe or unnecessary modules, particularly in APIs and third-party libraries. An audit of what constitutes an unsafe module should be about privacy by design, such as the unnecessary capture and retention of personal data, as well as security vulnerabilities. Likewise, code reviews should include an audit for privacy by design principles, including mapping where data is physically and virtually stored, and how that data is protected, encrypted, and sandboxed.”

Sure, all of this seems like a headache, but all of this should make life better for users and customers. And while it might seem frustrating to not be able to track users in the way that we might have in the old world, by forcing everyone to focus on what users really want  – not what we want them to want – we’ll ultimately get to a place that’s better for everyone.

Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.


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