Website Policies: Do I need them?

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice.

You’ve spent months perfecting the content and images for your website. Then the developer asks you for your Privacy Policy. If your website offers information of some kind and that information proves to be inaccurate or damaging in some way, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit. Website policies help you comply with laws and protect you by limiting your liability. The three most common policies found on websites are a Privacy Policy, Terms of Service, and a Disclaimer.

Privacy Policy

A Privacy Policy is a legal statement that helps website owners explain how their company collects, handles, processes, and discloses its customer’s personally identifiable information (PII) on a website or app. The privacy policy should use clear and explicit language to ensure that their customers or website visitors understand what personal data you are collecting and how the company will use it.

Privacy policies are essential for any digital medium that collects user data. These include websites, e-commerce sites, blogs, web applications, mobile applications, and desktop applications. The data is collected through tools such as contact forms, website analytics, and more. 

A contact form asks users to submit their name, email, and phone number, which are examples of personally identifiable information. Most websites use Google Analytics, which collects each visitor’s IP address and shares personally identifiable information with third parties. These are just a couple of examples of how websites collect and share PII.

Penalties for non-compliance

Privacy policies offer transparency and are an excellent way to build trust with your customers. Most third-party applications require them, and they are legally necessary. Privacy laws and regulations exist all over the world. If your website has visitors from outside your state or country, you need to abide by their privacy laws, as well as your state. It’s important to research the legal requirements for your customer base and ensure that you’re abiding by the necessary regulations. There is no single federal privacy law in the United States. Each state is responsible for setting digital privacy laws.

Multiple states in the US now have privacy laws, along with fines starting at $2500 per infringement (per website visitor). You should have a comprehensive Privacy Policy in place and develop a strategy to keep your policies up-to-date when these laws are amended or when new laws are implemented. States are proposing laws that will allow consumers to sue businesses in the US for not having a compliant Privacy Policy. So, even if you are collecting an email address on a contact form, you should have a Privacy Policy. 

Terms of Service

If you have links to third-party websites (like social media) and want to protect your website from accidental copyright infringement or have an eCommerce website, you need a Terms of Service Agreement. This Agreement limits the liability of your business by communicating the rules for using the website. 

For example, if your website offers links to third-party websites, a Terms of Service can help explain to the website users that the business is not responsible if the user clicks on those links. If a the link brings a user to a hacked website, the Terms of Service disclosure can help prevent you from being sued. 

Another example is what is known as a DMCA notice. This notice helps prevent a business from being sued by providing contact information if the website accidentally uses copyrighted material (like images or content). 

There are other disclosures that a Terms of Service can make, but these two are the most popular and are easy ways to protect your website and your business. Having a Terms of Service Agreement will help you:

  1. Answer questions commonly asked by your customers and move them along the purchasing path;
  2. Limit your liability by spelling out what warranty, if any, you offer on purchases made through your website or on the website itself;
  3. Protect your intellectual property;
  4. Save costs by specifying where you will resolve disputes if they should come up;
  5. Limit the amount of damages that you may be responsible for in case of a dispute;
  6. Maintain control over your website and its users.

Disclaimer

A Disclaimer is a document that helps limit your responsibilities and liabilities for your website in certain circumstances. It is not something that you need to enforce actively. It is in place to potentially protect you in the event of legal action.

Does your website:

Advertise third-party products or services? A Disclaimer will help protect you if a user clicks on the third-party advertisement and gets a virus, is injured by the product or service or is unhappy with the third-party product or service.

Sell or display health products? A Disclaimer will help protect you if the health products do not work as they should, do not deliver the expected results, or if the user gets injured by the health products.

Participate in an affiliate program? An affiliate program is a program whereby you list a particular link on your website. If the user clicks on that link or purchases the products that the link displays, you receive money from the manufacturer of that product. A Disclaimer will help you comply with the affiliate program’s Terms of Service, as most affiliate programs require you to provide a Disclaimer and will help you keep your user’s trust.

Provide health and fitness advice? A Disclaimer will protect you if the user gets injured after following your health and fitness advice.

Provide information that others could see as legal advice? A Disclaimer will protect you by stating that there is no attorney-client relationship and that the information is not legal advice, thereby protecting you in case something goes wrong. (note the Disclaimer at the top of this post.).

Where should the policies be located?

Your policies should be easily accessible, with each policy on a standalone page. It’s recommended that the link to the policies be placed in the website footer. However, if they create an account, use a checkout process, sign up for your newsletter, etc., they should be reminded of the policies. 

Can I copy policies from another site?

Even if the website offers the same services and information that your website provides, the answer is no. From a copyright perspective this could be problematic, and it may not contain all the essential elements or apply to your business. Each website has its particularities, different ways it collects personal information, uses third-party tools and services, where the users are located, and the laws that apply. 

Website policies are not only for large businesses. You have to make the decision to add policies to your website. Now that you better understand the various policies that may apply to your website and an overview of the requirements, it’s time to get these created and added to your site. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need assistance.

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