Websites are becoming more complex. And the same can be said for the online world as a whole. Thus, being on the web is no longer simple.
It has become more important to think about the tools we use. Nowhere is this more evident than in online privacy. The potential ramifications are serious.
That’s due to a combination of factors. First, there is more awareness of privacy issues. Regulations such as GDPR also play a role. And we can’t forget about opportunistic people. Many are testing boundaries with lawsuits.
As usual, web designers are caught in the middle. Some features we routinely implement for clients have become controversial. And we’re often the first point of contact when a problem arises. It’s awkward at best – and extremely stressful at worst.
So, how can we navigate this treacherous minefield? Here’s how online privacy is impacting web designers – and what we can do about it.
What’s at Stake for Web Designers?
Web designers often act as a liaison between clients and third-party services. That puts us in a unique position when it comes to privacy.
No, we’re not the ones tracking the site’s users. But we implement such software. Therefore, it’s important to understand our risks and responsibilities.
Imagine a scenario where a lawsuit is filed against your client. Someone is claiming that the client’s website (which you built) is violating privacy laws.
A reasonable client likely wouldn’t blame you. After all, you don’t control the data collection policies of another company.
But not everyone is reasonable or rational. They may be looking for an easy scapegoat. And you could be a target.
The outcome could be costly both mentally and monetarily. And it could impact your business immeasurably.
It’s bad enough if this type of incident happens once. But what’s to stop it from happening again?
Your risk would be multiplied by every website you build. It might drive up the cost of doing business. Or it could convince you to leave the industry altogether.
No one wants that. So, how do we minimize the possibility?
Recognize the Risk of Third-Party Tools
Third-party tools have long been a part of web design. We add social media feeds. And we help clients gauge site traffic via analytics.
We perform these tasks over and over. But how many of us have considered the impact?
Privacy concerns are nothing new. The issues posed by Facebook, Google, etc., have been discussed for years.
But it feels like those discussions were very broad. We’ve talked about the policies and practices of these companies. However, not much is said about what it means to the average website.
The focus has narrowed. It’s not unusual for website owners to be singled out by lawyers. And in many cases, a third-party tool is part of the alleged violation.
This is a mess for web designers and their clients. Therefore, the days of adding these features by default are over.
Discuss Online Privacy With Your Clients
Clients may not understand the correlation between online privacy and their website. Thus, it’s worth discussing third-party tracking tools with them.
The idea isn’t to dissuade them from using these tools. Rather, it’s about making them aware of the implications. For example, giving them a broad outline of what Facebook Pixel is used for.
This empowers them to make an informed decision. In some cases, a tool may offer more risk than reward.
Also, some industries have stringent privacy regulations. The healthcare and government sectors, for example, may rule out the use of certain tools.
And there are some questions web designers can’t answer. We’re not lawyers. Therefore, encourage your clients to seek an expert opinion when necessary.
Proactively discussing these issues brings them to the forefront. Hopefully, that will lead to more focus on privacy.
Service Providers Must Evolve With Privacy Standards
We could forgo the use of analytics, ad networks, and social media. But that’s not realistic. Each of these areas is still important. They help with decision-making, marketing, and revenue.
There are alternative services that focus on privacy, however. For example, analytics apps that don’t log user-specific information. And you might use federated social networks that don’t track a user’s every move.
The downside is that clients may be giving up some advanced features. Not to mention the reach offered by the biggest names in these spaces.
That’s why service providers must evolve. Neither website owners nor web designers should be put at risk by using these tools. Instead, they should be confident that they’re doing right by users (and the law).
Google Analytics 4 is a step in the right direction. It eschews much of the user-specific data of its predecessor. Yet there are still questions regarding compliance with GDPR and other regulations.
It behooves big data providers to take privacy seriously. Otherwise, the risk of using their products will be too high.
Privacy Is Yet Another Web Battleground
There’s no shortage of challenges for web designers. Privacy has taken its rightful place alongside security and accessibility. Each has real-world consequences.
And like those other two concerns, there are steps we can take to mitigate risk. Caution and communication are the keys.
First, we must understand how privacy is impacted by third-party tools and services. We can scrutinize them and avoid the worst offenders.
Secondly, we can use our role as educators to keep clients informed. We can make them aware of privacy concerns so that they can act accordingly.
It’s also important to protect ourselves. That means including language about privacy in contracts. And also pointing clients toward legal professionals for advice.
None of this is simple. But it’s a growing part of what freelancers and small agencies must manage.