Why Your Online Business Needs a Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Why Your Online Business Needs a Privacy Policy : I’m sure you’ve noticed that most websites include a link to their “Privacy Policy” near the bottom of their home page. You can even try to read one of these Privacy Policies and understand what its purpose is. If so, it is likely that there are so many legalese that it is difficult to understand what they mean, and why they exist.

You might also ask yourself if you need something similar for your own online business. The short answer to that question is yes. If you want to maximize the protection of your online assets, you need to properly prepare and implement an appropriate privacy policy on your website.

Let’s explore what a privacy policy is, and how to set up one that works best for your web-based business.

What is a Privacy Policy?

A privacy policy is a written statement that sets out the terms and conditions under which your website handles the personal information it collects from anyone who visits the site. No standard length or form is required for a privacy policy, although many of them contain the same terms and language.

The guiding principles for preparing your own website privacy policy are accuracy and clarity. First and foremost, your privacy policy should describe what you do or may do with the personal information you collect from visitors to your website. As a starting point, your privacy policy should contain the following elements:

1. Identify the types of personal information your website collects about its visitors. You may collect the email address of any visitor who posts a message to your website’s bulletin board or chat area, or who contacts you via a web form or email. You may also collect consumer preference information from website surveys or other pages, and there may be additional information that users voluntarily provide or provide while on your website. You must identify each of these types of information.

It is also good practice to describe the type of information your website server automatically records about each visitor, which may include the IP address of the computer the customer is using. You must also state whether your website sets “cookies” on the visitor’s computer, and if so, what information is stored in the cookie and what the information is used for.

2. Describe how you use the information provided by or collected from your visitors. Do you use your customer information only for internal purposes, such as to optimize the structure or content of your website? Do you share information with outside organizations that may contact individuals for marketing purposes? If contacted by a government entity that wants access to visitor information, would you contact the individual before providing the information to the government entity? You must disclose any of these uses in your privacy policy.

3. Explain how website users can review and make changes to their personal information, if that is an option available to them. For example, if your website has an ecommerce component and you allow customers to store their shipping or billing information on your website, then you must state how the customer can access that information if he or she wishes to review or change it.

4. Explain how you will publish changes to your privacy policy. Privacy policies are living documents, in the sense that they need to be updated and revised as you grow and make changes to the way you do business, and in response to changing legal requirements. Do you plan to email your registered users with updates about any changes to the privacy policy, or should you review the policy from time to time to learn about changes?

5. Provide your contact information. At a minimum, you must provide a valid email address where customers can contact you with questions about your privacy policy. This is a good practice because it can help you identify

Do I Really Need to Have a Privacy Policy?

If you do not collect any personally identifiable information from your visitors at all (such as if your business website is just a single page providing your physical store location and opening hours), then you may not need to have an official written privacy policy. But if you collect any customer or contact information through your website, have an ecommerce element, or collect other information from your visitors, or plan to do any of those things in the near future, then yes, you do need a privacy policy. Not having an accurate privacy policy can hold your business accountable in a number of different ways.

The first is that you may face liability under more and more state laws to protect consumer privacy. For example, California law requires operators of commercial websites that collect any personal information about users to prominently post their privacy policies on their websites. Although the term “flashy” is not defined explicitly in the law, it is generally accepted that this means that a link should be on the homepage of a website.

Pennsylvania and Nebraska both have laws that prohibit website operators from knowingly making false statements or statements in their privacy policies about the use of personal information collected from their users.

Should you care about these state laws if you don’t live in one of these three states? The answer, again, is – maybe. If your business targets users across countries (or, more accurately, doesn’t target users in specific locales), then your website will likely be subject to legal requirements in each state. This will be the case if you are in the business of selling information products such as e-books, providing consulting services to clients anywhere in the US, or something similar.

Even if your business is only local, such as a hair salon that uses a website to provide contact information or allow customers to make appointments online, it’s a good idea to keep your privacy policy accurate. The laws above are only laws that can be enforced by the countries themselves. Private individuals may also file lawsuits based on any kind of inaccurate or potentially deceptive practices set out in your privacy policy.

What should I do next?

Luckily, you don’t have to start from scratch when setting up a privacy policy. There are a number of resources available on the Internet that will be a great starting point for your own privacy policy. But be careful to copy the privacy policies of other websites verbatim. This will increase the likelihood that the policy will not match what you do with your customer’s personal information.

Take the time to ensure that the privacy policy is truly appropriate for the way you do business, and meets the minimum standards described in this article (some website privacy policies in use today do not meet these standards). If you have the resources, consult a qualified advisor to ensure the proposed privacy policy works for you and your business. This will help you maximize the protection afforded to your online assets.