Understanding the Privacy Implications of SDKs

November 14, 20232 min read

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Understanding SDKs at the Privacy + Security Forum Fall Academy

I recently had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion at the Privacy + Security Forum’s Fall Academy in Washington, DC—alongside FKKS Privacy & Data Security Partners Daniel M. Goldberg and Rick Borden, and WireWheel CEO Justin Antonipillai.

Our panel focused on the privacy implications of third-party SDKs, including the role of SDKs in modern technology, and why companies should care about them now. Plus, we made sure to leave the hundreds of privacy and security experts in attendance with a few practical steps they could take to reduce SDK risk at their organization. 

You can find the highlights of our discussion below! 

What is an SDK?

Companies looking to transition from legacy privacy tech to more modern solutions often ask: “What even is an SDK?” We kicked off our session by unpacking this question. 

SDKs, or Software Development Kits, are intricate bundles of code that form the backbone of the apps we use daily. From facilitating seamless checkouts, to enabling scheduling services, to managing the familiar "login with Facebook'' functionality, SDKs are omnipresent. 

Beyond functional services, SDKs can also be used for app monetization in the context of analytics and advertising in mobile experiences.

Why should companies care about SDKs? 

As the regulatory landscape rapidly evolves, especially in California, SDKs have quickly become an urgent topic for privacy professionals. Regulators at both the state and federal level have demonstrated a particular focus on synchronizing Do Not Sell/Share opt-outs across web and mobile platforms. 

Plus, Google has mandated that app publishers implement a Transparency & Consent Framework (TCF)-like experience for monetization, while Apple is set to enforce transparency regarding third-party SDK use in App Store applications. 

Ultimately, SDKs have come under the spotlight due to their potential invasiveness. They can effectively transform our phones into sophisticated tracking devices and have given rise to a multi-billion dollar industry centered around the sale of location data.

How to mitigate SDK privacy risks + how Transcend can help

When navigating the intricate landscape of SDKs, legal teams and privacy leaders must work proactively to achieve compliance. Many companies may feel overwhelmed by the technical complexity of effectively addressing SDK privacy risks, but they shouldn’t.

Legacy privacy solutions may struggle with these concepts, offering clunky, slapdash fixes—but for modern privacy companies this is easy work. At Transcend, we’re proud to power privacy at the code layer—helping a wide range of organizations, from startups to the Fortune 100, effortlessly address SDK privacy risks.

Continuous awareness

Transcend regularly scans your codebase to stay up-to-date on the SDKs in use. Developers may not be on top of this (every team is operating independently and at lightning speed), so it’s important to take your own steps towards continuous awareness.

Audit for data flow

Use Transcend to easily conduct audits on your SDKs, in order to trace where these providers are sending data. This is crucial for understanding the potential privacy implications associated with each SDK.

Make sure there's a unified consent experience across both web and mobile platforms for authenticated users. This contributes to a seamless, consistent user experience, while ensuring compliance with privacy regulations like CPRA. Transcend does this with ease, regardless of a customer’s size or complexity.

Granular regulation

SDKs often serve multiple purposes—both functional and analytics, for example. Your privacy partner should make it easy for you to implement automatic mechanisms for granular SDK regulation. This allows your company to recognize and respect user choices while maintaining the functional integrity of the app.

Engage SDK providers

Encourage SDK providers to develop privacy APIs that facilitate the seamless integration of privacy controls within apps.

Institute audit frameworks

Follow the example set by FKKS and institute audit frameworks for new SDKs within your organization. This ensures that each new integration aligns with privacy and regulatory standards.

Using these proactive steps, companies can better navigate the complexities of SDKs—ensuring both regulatory compliance and the preservation of user privacy and experience. Our panel discussion highlighted the increasing urgency on this topic, as well as practical strategies to address the challenges presented by third-party SDKs.

If you want to speak to an expert on transcending your privacy experience, please reach out. I’d love to connect!

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