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Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, do I need them?

Have you ever seen those little footnotes at the bottom of a website that highlight ‘Privacy Policy’ or ‘Terms of Use’ and ever wondered to yourself…what are those are all about? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably just looked right past them and never given them much thought. “Just more legal mumbo, in a language that reads greek, and that I just don’t have time for,” is what I always thought.

While it is true that the vast majority of our website visitors and customers will never visit these pages, they do serve a very important purpose and deserve some consideration when working on your website project.

cybersprout website footer with links to privacy and terms

What are a Privacy Policy and Terms of Service?

Both documents are legally binding agreements between a website visitor and the website’s owner. The main difference, put simply, is that a Privacy Policy is designed to protect the visitor/customer, while the Terms of Service is intended to protect you, the business and website owner.

Privacy Policy

When you fill out a form on a website, do you find yourself asking, ‘where is all of this information I’m sharing going’? If you have, then the Privacy Policy is for you. This document is a legal requirement on websites that collect personally identifying or private information. While many website owners think that their site doesn’t collect this information, the fact of the matter is that if you have a contact form, utilize Google Analytics, or leverage a website cookie for your page’s interaction, then you are collecting personal information.

The requirement for posting a Privacy Policy came primarily out of two large privacy protection regulations; the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CalOPPA. In addition to meeting government regulations, providing a privacy policy is often a requirement of many 3rd party marketing and analytics platforms (like Google Analytics and MailChimp) in order to utilize their services.

Beyond government requirements, this policy is also just good for business in the following ways;

  • Build Trust: having this policy available builds trust with your customers and visitors and helps them feel cared for and safe. It shows them that they are interacting with a professional business who takes care of the details.
  • Clear Boundaries: these also outline clear boundaries for where the information collected will be used and saves from surprises.
  • Reference: you can refer back to the policy contents if someone is upset with their data usage. It stipulates the rights and controls they have available.
  • Policy Tracking: it is a helpful internal resource to reference what information you collect and what you intend to use it for.

It is important to note that you should never collect information outside of what you outline in the policy terms. Also you should never share the data with another source outside those you mention in the policy. This includes any third party applications or plugins that may use this information for their processing needs.

Terms of Service

Unlike a Privacy Policy, Terms of Service aren’t a legal requirement but are a good practice to have in place and defined. Again, these are designed to protect you, the business, most of all. 

The Terms of Service (also referred to as Terms & Conditions, Terms of Use, or Conditions of Use) explain to a visitor what is expected of them while using your website or application. Their biggest value comes from providing you legal structure to leverage in the case of abuse or litigation.

A well written Terms of Service statement can help you;

  • Limiting liability
  • Protect you from Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations
  • Outline restrictions and prohibited activities
  • Detail your rights to action should a violation occur, including the right to end or deny service
  • Protect your intellectual property and copyrights
  • Provide detail on purchase terms, subscriptions, cancellations/returns and other business practices.
  • Reduce warranty risks
hand writing on paper

What to consider when drafting a Privacy Policy or Terms of Service?

In the vein of legal disclaimers, I need to highlight here that CYBERsprout is not, nor claims to, be legal experts. Based on your tolerance for risk and/or budget allowance, it may be worth reaching out to a legal professional you trust to help craft these statements with you.

There are many tools and freely available templates online that can be handy in structuring and drafting these templates. Having an initial draft created that only needs review/edits can often save you money when obtaining legal assistance.

Let’s take a second and explore some of the sections that are often found in each of these disclosures.

Common sections of a website Privacy Policy

Here is a list of common sections/items disclosed in a typical Privacy Policy;

  • Share what personally identifying information is collected
  • Explain why you’re collecting this information
  • Let them know what you’re going to do with it
  • Be transparent about which third parties you may be sharing it
  • Explain which security measures are in place to ensure the security of their information
  • Outline how then can see and change their information shared with you

Common sections of a Terms of Service

Here is a list of common sections/items provided in a Terms of Service;

  • How your product is allowed to be used
  • Limitations to Liability including age limitations
  • Warranty disclaimers
  • Billing information
  • Under what circumstances a user’s account might be terminated
  • Copyright information
  • Requirements for user-generated content
  • How litigation is handled in the event it should occur
hand holding succulent plant

Whose responsibility are these?

While your website developer/agency may provide templates for these as a starting point to make the process easier, ultimately the contents of the statements is the responsibility of the website owner. Remember that if a lawsuit is filed, the one who will be defending the statements is the website owner.

Getting help from a legal professional is often your best bet to ensure you have the protections you’ll need. Laws around the world vary by state and country and these professionals can help you navigate the intricacies of your jurisdictions. They will also work with you to address any goals you may have or nuances to your business.

Having a thorough and easy to read version of both a Privacy Policy and Terms of Service statement not only help you to comply with privacy laws, they’ll also provide a sound framework that sets you up for success. 

Additionally, remember, most of us want our information kept secure. Our most valuable asset—our customers, users, and community members—do too. The extent to which you show the efforts you take can go a long way to strengthening that relationship.

**DISCLOSURE: CYBERsprout and its associates or affiliates are not attorneys or legal professionals. This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice.

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Brad

I'm excited to help our partners find new ways to leverage their online web presence to meet their goals. When not at the office, you will catch me running, cycling or spending time with my dog Mira.

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