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The PDP Bill 2019 Through the Lens of Privacy by Design

Posted by Saumyaa Naidu, Akash Sheshadri, Shweta Mohandas, and Pranav M Bidare; Edited by Arindrajit Basu, Shweta Reddy; With inputs from Amber Sinha at Nov 12, 2020 10:55 AM |
This paper evaluates the PDP Bill based on the Privacy by Design approach. It examines the implications of Bill in terms of the data ecosystem it may lead to, and the visual interface design in digital platforms. This paper focuses on the notice and consent communication suggested by the Bill, and the role and accountability of design in its interpretation.



The Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 11, 2019 by the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology. The Bill aims to provide for protection of personal data of individuals, and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the same [1]. The PDP Bill, 2019 contains several clauses that have implications on the visual design of digital products. These include the specific requirements for communication of notice and consent at various stages of the product. The Bill also introduces the Privacy by Design policy. Privacy by Design (PbD), as a concept, was proposed by Ann Cavoukian in the 1990s, with the purpose of approaching privacy from a design-thinking perspective [2]. She describes this perspective to be holistic, interdisciplinary, integrative, and innovative. The approach suggests that privacy must be incorporated into networked data systems and technologies, by default [3]. It challenges the practice of enhancing privacy as an afterthought. It expects privacy to be a default setting, and a proactive (not reactive) measure that would be embedded into a design in its initial stage and throughout the life cycle of the product [4]. While PbD is a conceptual framework, it’s application can change the way digital platforms are created and the way in which people interact with them. From devising a business model, to making technological decisions, PbD principles can make privacy integral to the processes and standards of a digital platform.

The PDP Bill states that data fiduciaries are required to prepare a Privacy by Design policy and have it certified by the Data Protection Authority. According to the Bill, the policy would contain the managerial, organisational, business practices and technical systems designed to anticipate, identify and avoid harm to the data principal [5]. It would mention if the technology used in the processing of personal data is in accordance with the certified standards. It would also comprise of the ways in which privacy is being protected throughout the stages of processing of personal data, and that the interest of the individual is accounted for in each of these stages. Once certified by the Data Protection Authority, the data fiduciaries are also required to publish this policy on their website [6]. This forces the data fiduciaries to envision privacy as a fundamental requirement and not an afterthought. Such a policy would have a huge impact in the way digital platforms are conceptualised, both from the technological and the design point of view. The adoption of this policy by digital platforms would enable people to know if their privacy is protected by the companies, and what are the various steps being taken for this purpose. Besides the explicit Privacy by Design policy, the PDP Bill, 2019, also recommends the regulations for data minimisation, establishment of the Data Protection Authority (DPA), and the development of a consent framework. These steps are also part of the Privacy by Design approach.

This paper evaluates the PDP Bill based on the Privacy by Design approach. The Bill’s scope includes both the conceptual and technological aspects of a digital platform, as well as the interface aspect that the individual using the platform faces. The paper will hence analyse how PbD approach is reflected in both these aspects. At the conceptual level, it will look at the data ecosystem that the Bill unwittingly creates, and at the interface level, it will critically analyse the Bill’s implication on the notice and consent communication in the digital products. This includes the several points of communication or touchpoints between a company and an individual using their service, as dictated by the Bill, and how they would translate into visual design. Visual design forms an integral part of digital platforms. It is the way in which the platforms interact with the individuals. The choices made by individuals are largely driven by the visual structuring and presentation of information on these platforms. Presently, the interface design in several platforms is being used to perpetuate unethical data practices in the form of dark patterns. Dark Patterns are deceptive user interface interactions, designed to mislead or trick users to make them do something they don’t want to do [7]. The design of the notice and consent touchpoints can significantly influence the enforcement of this Bill, and how it benefits individuals. Moreover, digital platforms may technically follow the regulations but can still be manipulative through their interface design. Thus, the role and accountability of design becomes crucial in the interpretation of the data protection regulations.


The full paper can be read here.