Software as a service is vital for businesses, but so is privacy and data security. SaaS providers must deliver for their customers or risk a dangerous credibility gap, plus data breaches, fines, fees, and everything else that goes along with compliance failures.
Where does a SaaS start protecting their business and their customers? They start with these 10 steps.
1. Prioritize privacy in your business
Privacy won’t do you or your customers much good if it’s always last in line. Work with your decision-makers to implement privacy policies into your business values and practices: how and why you’re collecting data; what privacy and personal data means for your products; and how you talk about privacy with your customers and your employees.
It’s never too late to start. And if you need help, a fractional privacy officer is just an email away (for the fraction of the cost of in-house specialists.)
2. Limit the information you’re gathering
Let’s loop back to the whys of your data collection. Privacy regulations widely require you to minimize the data that you’re collecting by having a reason for collecting it in the first place. If you limit your collection, you decrease the risk of data loss and breaches; you decrease costs of storage and protection; and you increase the likelihood of customer trust.
Another benefit to minimizing the data you collect? If you keep a streamlined data collection program, you’ll be able to keep up with regulatory changes more easily.
3. Encrypt your data
Always. In today’s remote working, online shopping, social media-ing world, you can’t not encrypt your data and expect to avoid repercussions. Encryption should happen throughout all parts of your technology to protect your business and your customers.
But it's more than protecting against data breaches (although yes, that's a big reason.) It's also about maintaining consumer confidence. Communicate your encryption practices to show them that you value their trust.
And as a side note, not taking sufficient measures to protect data can land your business in regulatory hot water with CCPA and GDPR. These privacy acts don’t specifically require encryption, but it’s far easier to just encrypt your data than getting into legal debates.
4. Data inventorying — it’s a good thing
A data inventory is a line item for GDPR, but it’s an important piece of your privacy practices even if you aren’t required to comply with any particular privacy regulation. A data inventory gives you an organized overview of what data you’ve collected, how you’ve been using, sharing, processing, and storing it. You can then use that overview to track your data flow, help manage vendor relationships, keep your privacy notices up-to-date, and support a streamlined data collecting process.
5. Offer your customers transparency
You may know why you’re asking your customers for their data, but do they? Chances are, they’d like to know. That’s where transparency comes in. Thankfully, there’s lots of room to communicate with them because your customers are presented with lots of privacy touchpoints in their relationship with you. Don’t miss these opportunities to clarify:
- Why you’re asking them for their personal information
- How and why you’re going to use it
- Who you’re going to share it with
- And always, how it benefits them
Be as specific as possible — no one gets warm fuzzies from vague legalese.
6. Get your employees privacy-ready
If you don’t train your employees to handle privacy issues, then you’ll quickly run into compliance problems. Your customers' data is handled by your employees. But do they know what your privacy policies are? Do they know why they're in place and what it means for their jobs? Employees need thorough training on any regulations that apply to your customers, your workplace, your business, and your industry.
7. Back it up in multiple locations
We like the ancient idiom: Don’t put all your data in one basket. This can limit damages in cases of data breaches, although it's important to be diligent about your backup processes: you want your data to be current and useful across all locations.
This goes for when a customer requests that their data is deleted — consistency is important for honoring these individual rights requests.
8. Put individual rights into your policies
Speaking of individual rights, don’t assume that honoring them is a one-size-fits-all task. Each regulation defines and honors individual rights differently, so you need to use a targeted approach for upholding them. The best place to start? Start by getting familiar with what the rights are in the first place. The more well versed you are, the easier it will be to come up with appropriate solutions.
9. Marketing teams should be a priority
Marketing is a multifaceted, ever-changing industry. To meet privacy goals, you need to know how marketing activities intersect with privacy regulations. This means looking at how your business approaches its website(s), apps, email and social media marketing, any point at which data is collected.
A few key points to remember:
- Rules vary by channels and tools. An email operates under different laws than websites.
- Regulations vary from country to country. What you can do in the US is different than what you can do in Australia or Brazil.
- Whatever you do, make managing how they share information easy with a preference center.
10. Trust is a long-term project
A business needs the trust of its customers, employees, and stakeholders to thrive. Privacy is part of that trust. And honoring privacy is an investment in it.
Start by developing solutions that support trust. Don’t just tell people they can trust you — show them why.
What are your goals for privacy in your Saas? If they are just to tick off the boxes on a compliance checklist, that’s definitely something you can do — but is that the best solution?
Ultimately, what will get you further? A quick-and-dirty compliance plan that you have to scramble to change each time regulations shift? Or a thoughtful long-term strategy that focuses on nurturing customer trust and growing your business through privacy practices?
Software as a service is an essential part of business operations, but just because it offers value doesn’t mean that you should take a shortcut with privacy practices. Starting with these basics, you can achieve your goals and exceed everyone’s expectations for privacy standards.