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Jun
06
2012

Guest Post: Make Privacy a Strategic Asset for your Startup

Rob Banagale
Co-founder + CEO @ Gliph
@jetsetter

Image Credit

Startup accelerators are sprouting up across the globe with more seed-backed companies coming to market than ever before. Every startup is looking for a way to differentiate itself from competitors as it looks toward its first significant round of funding.

The best founders will recognize the rapidly shifting societal and legislative views toward privacy as both a disruption and an opportunity. While privacy evangelists (and even some mainstream publications) have been beating the privacy drum for some time, many founders nonetheless put it on the backburner, sometimes purposefully and sometimes inadvertently.

By doing this, many founders are failing to take advantage of the strategic asset that privacy can be for their startups. Privacy is one significant way of further differentiating your offering from competitors when pitching potential investors and venture capitalists (VC).

Begin with the Basics
In mobile technology, the word “design” is regularly applied to the visual styling of an application; how closely the app conforms to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines; or even the overall user experience gained from interacting with the software. But don’t be fooled: the principles of Privacy By Design extend to the technical architecture and business of your startup. With careful application of the principles, you can position your company to reap the benefits of a new source of value creation. It starts with a privacy policy, and no, you don’t necessarily need a lawyer to write one. There are good, free privacy policy generators out there (like the one provided by TRUSTe, see here) that can help you create a mobile-friendly privacy policy.

Pro Tip: Prepare for tough questions about privacy by reading Ann Cavoukian’s 7 Foundational Principles of Privacy by Design and discussing them with your leadership team.

Hire with Privacy In Mind
When I hire an engineer, I begin asking about their feelings on privacy early in the interview process. Emphasizing privacy discussions during interviews has the dual-effect of revealing the prospective employee’s ethics and integrity and projecting to everyone the importance of privacy in the company. I’ve found that by discussing privacy issues with employees, I’m likely to get a better read on how (and if) they will contribute to the development of privacy as an asset for my company.

Pro Tip: Build a stronger team by discussing the concept of privacy while interviewing potential employees.

Make Privacy a Consideration in Planning Technical Architecture
Traditionally, a technical co-founder will focus on ensuring that your architecture is flexible enough to handle a long and storied roadmap of features. However, if you don’t include technological considerations for privacy from the beginning, you’ll inadvertently create technical risk at scale. The last thing you want to hear from your engineers is that the privacy controls you need as-of-yesterday fall into the category of “scope creep.”

Once you have enough traction to start raising money, VCs will ask whether you are technically capable of scaling to handle an influx of users. Be prepared for scaling questions to include how you’re incorporating privacy into your technology.

Pro Tip: Enhance the value of your technology architecture by carefully following the principle of Privacy Embedded into Design.

Create Privacy Patterns to Enhance your IP
Building software solutions that artfully protect privacy and create an enjoyable user experience is not easy. You must combine design creativity with engineering prowess to break new ground with your mobile application. While you should aim to differentiate yourself by coming up with unique privacy design patterns, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.

You should introduce your entire product team to privacypatterns.org. This project is run by a team out of the UC Berkeley School of Information, and includes problems, solutions and examples of design solutions for common privacy problems. If you’re willing to share, the project accepts submissions and is working to build a community around this important challenge. While many startups want to protect their proprietary information, it’s also important (and savvy) to make yourself and your company part of this critical and on-going discussion.

Tip: Craft privacy pattern designs that differentiate your mobile application while leveraging insights from the community at large.

Privacy is Powerful
The startup world is competitive and it is your job to build as much value as quickly as you can. Instead of thinking about privacy as a hindrance, think of it as an asset that strengthens your team, enhances your technology and creates a better user experience. Both your users and investors will thank you.

Co-founder and CEO of the Gliph digital identity platform, Rob Banagale formerly served as the Director of Strategy at mobile applications agency, Übermind. His startup, Gliph, won the Innovators Spotlight Award at Privacy Identity Innovation Conference (Pii2012) last month.

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