Regulatory compliance ensures that a company adheres to regulations, laws, specifications, and guidelines that are related to their business.
There are a lot of rules that a company has to adhere to, and it varies depending on their industry or the country they are operating in. Some industries, such as healthcare, are heavily regulated.
A number of these regulations are there to ensure data protection, while others touch on operations. A company that follows regulatory compliance rules has an edge, as customers trust them more.
It’s not an easy process. Some companies have a separate person who handles compliance matters.
What App Developers Should Know About Compliance
What does a mobile app have to do with regulatory compliance? Mobile applications can collect an endless array of user information. This information may include personally identifiable data such as gender, location, phone contacts, messages, browser cookies, and more.
All that data should be protected, or you may not be compliant with one or more regulations.
There are several regulations that you should know, but that doesn’t mean that you are bound by all of them. To know the laws of reference, or which ones you should take note of, the general rule is to comply with the regulations of the country where you operate, as well as the countries of those who are going to use your apps.
You should also be aware of any emerging regulations that will affect your mobile apps.
There are laws that require you to make these documents available in the native tongue, depending on where you are.
Some Regulations You Should Know and How to Stay Compliant
Different sets of laws have their own requirements for compliance.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
HIPAA safeguards the personal health information (PHI) of patients. It covers health plans, healthcare providers, clearinghouses, and third parties that use PHI in their line of work.
What you need to know about HIPAA as a developer:
As an app developer, you’ll be required to comply with HIPAA if you deal with PHI. Healthcare apps that use PHI and fail to remain compliant, resulting in the breach of sensitive information, could face stiff fines of around $50,000.
To stay compliant, you need to:
- Inform the user of the data policies you have
- Protect all patient data with a password or any other authentication method
- Encrypt where you store and transmit personal information
- Put up a firewall
- Make sure that there’s a way to delete data in case a device is stolen
- If there is a breach, you should be able to notify the app’s users, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services about the incident
General Data Protection Regulation
The European Union’s GDPR doesn’t only cover those in the EU. You will have to be compliant if you are going to store and use information from citizens living in the EU.
The thing with GDPR is that it covers several different types of information. In addition to names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and other protected data, you will also need to protect IP addresses and cookie information, information that is not typically protected in earlier rules.
GDPR affect companies and app developers who:
- Have a presence or resides in the EU
- Processes, stores, or collects data from residents of EU
How does an app developer stay in compliance with GDPR rules?
When it comes to compliance, GDPR is one of those regulations that you should take note of. With potentially hefty fines, GDPR also has specific steps that you should follow to ensure compliance.
To avoid being in violation to GDPR, mobile app developers should:
- Get the user’s permission to collect their data. The app should include a terms and conditions that outline what types of information are being collected and what they are going to be used for. These terms and conditions should be written in a way that it is easily understood without any vagueness.
- Make privacy a part of your design philosophy. While designing your mobile app, privacy should be taken into consideration. Call it a feature or functionality, but end users should have complete control of their data. One good way is to include privacy controls that will allow them to stop the mobile app from logging their information. Or perhaps, allow users to have an option to have their data deleted and / or revoke their permission for the app to further collect their data.
- Ensure and document data protection. GDPR requires mobile app developers to be transparent about the data they collect, how it is used, and finally how the information is being processed. All of these should be properly documented. If a regulator asks for these logs, you should be able to provide them.
- Keep your app and its servers safe and secure. A big point about GDPR is that it assumes that you are doing the security best practices to make sure that user data is safe and secure. However, if there is a data breach, mobile app developers are required to inform the proper authorities within 72 hours. They are also required to inform end users and allow them to seek legal remedies if they want to.
What You Should Do in General to Boost Compliance
“Aside from GDPR and HIPAA, there are several other compliance frameworks that you should take note of. Each one has its own definition of the kinds of data covered, and how you can meet compliance requirements,” explains Dan Smith, Chief Revenue Officer and Co-Founder of Zeguro.
“For instance, if you’re developing a fintech mobile app that processes payment info, you will need to be compliant with the PCI DSS framework. You’ll need to protect cardholder information and make sure that cardholder data is not stored on the app itself in most cases,” Smith says.
Know the rules
The first thing that app developers should do is to know what regulations are relevant to the app they are creating. An app that helps with healthcare delivery but doesn’t accept payments will not need to be compliant to PCI-DSS. Similarly, a shopping app will not need to comply with HIPAA rules.
Focus on security
Regardless of what kind of app you are developing, you should always keep your focus on security. There are several best practices for this, including:
- Making your code complex
- Your code should be using obfuscation
- Avoiding simple logic when programming your app
- Testing third-party libraries you are going to use
- Using anti-tamper strategies
- Ensuring secure storage of sensitive data
- Deleting data securely
For very sensitive data, you should know how to implement secure storage and use cookie settings that are also secure. You should be able to validate SSL and TLS certificates, while using UUD. Geolocation data should be kept private, too.
There are also security best practices for logging and caching, as well as for the safe transmission of sensitive information.
An app developer should ensure that everything in their apps is documented and that these logs are readily available in case of an audit.
Notify users and the appropriate regulatory bodies in case of a breach
When your app suffers from a cyberattack, and personally identifiable information has been exposed, you should take steps to inform the app users, as well as the concerned regulatory body.
What to Do While Developing an App for Security
The Federal Trade Commission suggests the same thing: focus on security.
The agency says that you should aim for reasonable security measures for the data you collect and use in your app. They suggest that you:
- Have someone on your team who will be responsible and accountable for the security of the app.
- Survey the data your app is collecting and storing. This will help you know how many personally identifiable information you are collecting. This will also allow you to stop collecting data you no longer need.
- Choose the correct platform for your app development. This will help you configure your apps the right way, no matter what operating system is used and how APUs handle data.
- These platforms will have their own security features that you can use for your app. However, these features are not enough, you should add more security measures into the mix.
- You should not store any password in plain text.
- Encrypt all stored and transmitted data.
- Use only third-party code and libraries from sources that you trust.
- Protect the data you store, as well as the servers you are using for your apps.