Resources for Your Website Privacy and Terms of Use Policies - 2019

Website privacy and terms of use policy graphic - michaelgowin.com

Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney. But I build websites for small business owners and these websites should comply with current government and legal standards. What follows should, hopefully, be helpful and informative but please don’t consider it legal advice.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last ten years (and you’re not, at least now, if you’re reading this article), you’re probably aware of some of the notable data breaches that have affected consumers and Internet users:

  • Yahoo - Three billion Yahoo users (in other words, everyone with a Yahoo account) had their account data stolen in August 2013.

  • Equifax - One of the three primary credit reporting agencies in America reported in September 2017 that records of 143 million U.S. consumers had been breached. Criminal hackers gained access to names, birth dates, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

  • Facebook - In March 2018, the world learned Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm, illegally accessed data from 50 million Facebook users.

Other companies like Target, eBay, and Home Depot have also had user data—user names, passwords, credit card numbers—stolen.

Given the magnitude of the numbers, there’s a good chance you’ve been one of the unlucky billions who’ve suffered from data thievery.

Creating a privacy policy for your website

These incidents highlight the need for strong data security, of course. More fundamentally, though, they underscore how important it is for consumers to understand how their data is being used and who has access to it when they visit a website.

That’s where your website privacy policy comes in.

Even if you’re a one-man or one-woman small business, it’s a good idea to have a privacy policy and a terms of use policy (also known as a terms of service policy) in place.

What is a Website Privacy Policy?

When visitors show up at your site, you might want to collect some information from them. If you have an email newsletter or contact form, for example, they might give you their name, email address, physical mailing address, or phone number. 

And even if they don’t voluntarily offer any contact details, their computer is probably leaving its IP address or other information about their visit.

Your privacy policy addresses these issues by telling your visitors what information you collect and how you intend to use it.

What is a Website Terms of Use Policy?

While your site’s privacy policy tells visitors what you do with their data, your terms of use policy tells them what they can and can’t do on your site.

Your terms of use policy (which may also be called terms and conditions or terms of service) can include details about copyright, intellectual property, warranties (if you offer a product or service), as well as behavioral expectations for site users. It should also include a link to your privacy policy.

Creating and Displaying Your Privacy and Terms of Use Policies

If you plan to add a privacy policy and a terms of use policy to your site, you’ve got several options.

If you want to go full-on DIY and write your own policies, Nolo has guidelines for both your privacy policy and terms of use. Nolo has been providing expert legal advice since 1971—they’re an excellent resource for small businesses.

Alternatively, the Better Business Bureau has a sample privacy template you can customize.

If you Google a bit you’ll find scores of free templates or generators for both privacy policies and terms of use.

“Free” may be the right price for you. If you’re concerned, though, that a free template may not include everything you need, check out Disclaimer Template. Their policies are attorney-drafted and they offer a subscription option with annual policy updates as laws change. You can also connect with an attorney there to create custom policies for your site. Note: I used Disclaimer Template for the policies on this site.

And, as always, you can consult an attorney near you if that’s what works best for you.

Once you’ve created your policies, make sure you link to them on your site. Squarespace has specific recommendations for sharing your policies.

Creating your privacy and terms of use policies not only keeps you in compliance with legal regulations, it also encourages trust with your site visitors. When they know what to expect and know how you’ll treat their personal data, they’re more likely to join your email list or buy your thing.


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