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Don’t Blow Off Your Website’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use

As the owner of a fledgling small business, your days are never-ending. You need to do so many things that the last thing you want to think about is your small business website’s privacy policy and terms of use.

It’s tempting to turn over your website development to a company that has the expertise and experience to do it, trusting that they’ll take care of everything. While it’s probably a good idea to hire such a company, it’s both unrealistic and dangerous to assume that they’ll write your privacy policy and terms of use and all you’ll have to do is look them over and sign off.

Both of these documents are legally binding contracts between your company and your site visitors and users. You’re putting yourself at risk for future lawsuits and/or running afoul of Federal Trade Commission or state regulations if you don’t consult with an attorney. Once (s)he is familiar with your business and how your website will be used, (s)he’s the person who needs to draft these documents to protect your interests and limit your liability as much as possible.

Privacy Policy

Your website’s privacy policy must accurately set forth how your company does and will collect, use, store, and disseminate personal information your customers and site visitors reveal to you. You can’t simply copy and paste boilerplate from sample policies or cobble together paragraphs from other sites’ policy statements. Your site’s privacy policy must be specific to you.

TheSmall Business Administrationoffers these general guidelines:

  1. Explain how you collect and use personal information, including your cookie policy and how you share customer information.
  2. Make your privacy policy easily accessible on your site.
  3. Include your email opt-out policies.
  4. Include how you collect data from and about children. (You must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.)

If you don’t have your own server, be aware that your privacy policy must not conflict with that of the company whose server hosts your site. Since it’s highly likely that this small business websitescompany has servers in a state different from the one in which your business is located, you need to make sure thatyour policy and theirs comply with the statutes of both states.

Terms of Use

Your small business website’s terms of use are as important as its privacy policy. While they must be reader and user-friendly, remember that this is a legally binding contract between you and your site visitors. As such, your attorney should draft them.

LexisNexis Groupprovides these general guidelines:

  1. Trademarks, logos, and content - Users must understand that you own these, plus the right to use those licensed to you by others, and that you are not granting users a license to use them for their own purposes.
  2. Site content - Users must understand that all content on your small business website is copyrighted and they must not use it without your permission. (Obviously, you need to have gotten a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office.)
  3. User-submitted content - Users must understand that if they submit content to your site, you do not need to pay for it, it is not confidential, and they are giving you permission to use it for your own purposes, including sharing it with third parties.
  4. Disclaimers - Users must understand that you are neither endorsing nor claiming responsibility for user-submitted content. Likewise, if your site has third-party advertisers or links to merchants, users must understand that you are disclaiming any liability for products or services they buy from them. Finally, you must disclaim responsibility and liability for anything that happens under users’ passwords.
  5. Limitations of Liability - You need a very broad indemnification clause the alerts users that they are legally responsible if they violate any of your site’s terms of use.

There’s nothing sexy about your small business website’s privacy policy and terms of use, but don’t blow them off. They are crucially important.


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