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Tips and guidelines for making software applications GDPR compliant

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This article was contributed by Narendra Sahoo, founder and director of VISTA InfoSec.

Technology is an integral part of the majority of businesses today. This increasing use of technology has exposed businesses and their critical assets to the risks of breach and theft. In response, regulators and governing bodies around the world have established various regulations, standards, and frameworks for securing business-critical assets and personal data.

The General Data Protection Regulation Act (GDPR) is one such popular regulation that calls for protecting the personal data of citizens of the EU. Businesses catering to EU citizens are now required to comply with the GDPR. This includes software application developers and services providers. Businesses are also required to ensure that the applications they design and the solutions they provide are in alignment with GDPR requirements because the application in use may be used by EU citizens and store personal data. On that note, for the benefit of software application companies and our readers, we have shared some tips to help companies develop GDPR-compliant applications. But before looking at the tips, let’s understand the implications of GDPR on software application businesses.

What does GDPR mean for software applications?

Understanding the regulations and whether or not your business needs to comply with GDPR requirements is crucial. When it comes to software developers, they need to determine and acknowledge if their applications will deal with the personal data of EU citizens or not. No matter where or what the software application was developed for initially, if it collects, stores, or manages the data of EU citizens, it is imperative for them to be GDPR-compliant. So, when it comes to the design and development of software applications for the EU market, applications should be developed in a way that is aligned with the requirements of GDPR, in order to protect user data and privacy rights.

Businesses are required to build software applications with privacy and security by design and by default. This is because it will be the responsibility of software application vendors when companies outsource their data collection and processing work to them. The GDPR places great emphasis on the security and privacy of any personal data collected and/or processed. So, now that we know software application vendors need to comply with GDPR, let’s learn about the key requirements that ensure applications are GDPR-compliant.

Key requirements to ensure applications are GDPR-compliant

If there is the slightest possibility that the software application will be used by an EU citizen, it is critical to ensure that the software is designed to be GDPR-compliant. Software developers can implement the following measures at the design and development stage to ensure an application meets the regulatory requirements.

  • Privacy by design & default: GDPR clearly states the need for measures to ensure businesses implement privacy by design. This means the software developed for the purpose of business must by default provide users with the highest level of security and privacy. Moreover, the software applications developed must provide a default privacy setting to the maximum limit “Privacy by default” is essential to ensure the highest level of privacy and security.


  • Consent & notification: Software applications must be designed so that users are informed about their personal data being stored, used or transmitted for availing the application services. Consent should be mandatory and explicit at the time of installing and using the app. Users should be provided an opportunity for informed consent when it comes to the collection and processing of their personal data. Consent and notification is an essential requirement of GDPR and should be factored in the software application.


  • Pseudonymization by default: Pseudonymization is a process wherein identifiable information from personal data is replaced with an identifier or pseudonym. This way the critical data that reveal the person’s identity gets protected. The General Data Protection Regulation mentions pseudonymization as a technique for protecting personal data. However, it is still important to note that pseudonymized data will still be considered personal data and will require additional measures to ensure the privacy of the data. Although pseudonymization protects data, implementing this alone will not guarantee the maintenance of privacy as per the GDPR compliance.


  • Encryption of data: To be GDPR-compliant, the encryption of data is an effective technique for protecting and ensuring the privacy of personal data. It works as an added layer of security to the personal information collected, stored, or processed in the application software. This way, software companies can ensure a reduced probability of data breaches. Software applications should be designed and configured to store encrypted data to ensure the stored or transmitted personal data are secured and meet the current standards.


  • Right to be forgotten: GDPR upholds the rights of customers by granting them the right and option to be forgotten. Developers need to integrate or configure systems in a way that gives a user the option to be forgotten and facilitates immediate deletion of the data. Businesses are required to discard any personal data related to a particular individual if requested by them to do so.


  • Data breach reporting: Data breach reporting is an essential aspect of GDPR, and so the software application should include tools for data breach detection and reporting. Configuring such features will ensure compliance with privacy regulations.


  • Right to Portability: GDPR gives consumers the right to transfer their data under the “right to portability”. So, keeping this in mind, software application vendors must design applications that facilitate the right to data portability. Users should be able to transfer or reuse their personal data stored digitally in the application as and when required.

There are many smaller but important requirements such as checkboxes for the acceptance of privacy policies that should not be checked by default. A comprehensive check of the application as per GDPR requirements is required.

Developing GDPR-compliant software app can be a challenging task, particularly when it comes to implementing necessary data protection measures at every stage of SDLC that involves processing users’ personal data. Developing a GDPR-compliant application requires proper planning with necessary privacy protection in mind. Create clear terms and conditions about the use of an application and ensure that these terms and conditions are visible to the user at all times. Most importantly, ensure that these terms and conditions are written in a language that can be clearly understood. Finally, testing and validating the application against the key GDPR requirements should be a mandatory step towards ensuring compliance. This step is essential to verify whether all critical requirements are met and fulfilled.


Narendra Sahoo is the founder and director of VISTA InfoSec, a global Cybersecurity Consulting firm offering various compliance, regulatory, and IT audit services including PCI PIN, GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA, NESA, MAS-TRM, SOC2 Compliance & Audit, PDPA, PDPB.


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Tips and guidelines for making software applications GDPR compliant