Website Privacy Policies: Do I Need One?

Your website is designed and you’re ready to unleash it to the world. So now you may be thinking, “should I have an attorney draft up a user agreement?” It’s a standard inquiry with a complex answer, but the best short reply is, “Yes, if you want to cover your butt and optimize your site.” Besides, if you operate an online marketplace or a website that caters to children, user agreements are essential.

The number of phrases in the English language for “online user agreements” or “online privacy policies” rivals the number of words Eskimos have for snow. Terms of services, privacy statements, and acceptable use policies are all considered user agreements. No matter what it’s called, they’re the stipulations a user agrees to when accessing a website or online service or piece of software. Think of it as the proverbial fine print.

I just Have A Small Website, Do I Really Need An Online Privacy Policy?

You may be thinking, “But I just have a little website that hardly anybody visits, I don’t need one.” The truth is, even a blog that hangs out in digital no man’s land really should have a basic disclaimer that absolves the owner of liability with regards to comments other people post on the website. And believe it or not, many SEO-gurus have proved that search engines award agreement-sporting sites with slightly higher SERPs.

Also, several behavioral studies have shown that the average Joe or Jane has more trust in websites with posted user and privacy policies than those that don’t — just knowing it exists puts potential purchasers at ease. A user agreement won’t be your golden ticket to the front page of Google, but every little bit of on-page computer privacy filter and SEO helps.

Licensing terms are a wise thing to delineate in terms of service agreement. It lets visitors know if they can copy information found on your site. If it doesn’t matter to you that people steal content from your site and put it elsewhere on the Web, let that fact be known in your terms of service statement. On the flip side, if you want to fully protect the content on your site, it’s important to delineate your copyright and trademark restrictions in a user agreement. To guard against online cyber libel claims, posting a content liability disclaimer is also a smart choice.

To avoid the wrath of the FTC, anybody operating an e-commerce website should have a conspicuous user agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of sales. The law, however, disallows you from randomly making up your own sales agreement. It needs to adhere to pertinent state and federal laws.

For those who conduct business in the European Union, Safe Harbor regulations must also be outlined in a user agreement. Product and brand affiliates must also disclose this point in an accessible user agreement.

As online regulations and statues continue to change, the value of having an appropriate user agreement on your website increases. Though it’s a little bit sad to say, the lawless Wild West Web days are a thing of the past. Politicians are eager to prove their tech-savvy creds are hell-bent on passing aggressive online consumer protection statutes. This means that if you want your business to keep chugging along, you have to protect it with an Internet-lawyer-drafted user agreement.

Online Privacy Policies: They Could Save Your Company Money and Headaches

Companies are also starting to use service and product agreements in creative ways. In fact, Sony recently restructured their PlayStation terms of use to bar users from joining a class action against the company. (Yes, it can be done!) As a way to make their online environments more enjoyable for all players, Massively multiplayer online role-playing games are also starting to update their user agreements to prohibit the use of bigoted language in their virtual worlds.