Establishing Website Policies

Establishing Website Policies

Website policies protect both you and your site’s visitors, and they ensure that you stay in compliance with the law.

Here are some of the types of policies you’ll want to consider for your small business website.

Privacy

If your site will gather any information from visitors, you should have a privacy policy that explains what information you will gather and what you will do with it.  Depending on your type of business and where it’s located, you may be required to have a written policy.

Your policy should accurately describe how you collect and use information -- don’t just “cut and paste” from someone else’s website. Have a lawyer draft or review your privacy policy to make sure it’s complete and complies with the law.

Your users will appreciate a privacy policy that’s written in plain, easy to understand language.

  • Describe the kinds of information you collect and whether you collect it anonymously.
  • Explain how you collect information.
  • Tell them whether you share the information, and with whom.
  • Let them know that you will disclose information if you’re legally compelled to, such as in a lawsuit or law enforcement action.
  • Give them a way to opt out of future communications.

Once you’ve established a privacy policy, be sure to follow it. Update it as necessary and advise your site’s visitors of those updates.

Intellectual Property

Your website is protected by copyright as soon as it is created – there is no need to attach a copyright notice. Some businesses include a notice on their website as a reminder to others that the content is under copyright protection.

If your site has a significant amount of material (such as photographs) that other people might want to use, you can include a link to your policy for granting permission to use those materials. This may discourage others from using your work without your consent.

You should also have a policy in place to avoid infringing someone else’s copyright. Using someone else’s photographs, graphics or other copyrightable material without the author’s permission may be copyright infringement. Make sure you and your employees post only original material or material for which there is a written license or permission.

Websites Used by Minors

Special rules apply to collection, use or disclosure of personal information about children under the age of 13. For example, you may be required to obtain parental consent before collecting or disclosing information about a child. The regulations governing sites that cater to children can be complicated. An attorney experienced in child Internet and e-commerce issues can offer guidance, or you can research the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines.

Forums and Comments

Forums, discussion boards and blog comments can expose you to liability for the comments posted. A person who publishes a defamatory comment can be liable for defamation even if the comment was made by someone else. If the comment is a false or unfounded statement about a competitor, you could be sued under your state’s unfair business practice laws. And crude or offensive comments can damage your business’s reputation.

Take the safe route and make sure you:

  • Establish a procedure for monitoring postings. Immediately delete any posts that are offensive or could be considered libelous.
  • If someone asks you to remove a post, do it. This is generally true even if you don’t see anything wrong with the post.
  • Only post blog comments after you’ve approved them. 
  • Disclaim. Clearly say that your company isn’t responsible for the accuracy or reliability of third parties’ statements. If you’ve got a forum, publicize your policies against offensive, derogatory or defamatory remarks, and remind users that their posts can be deleted at your discretion.