Do You Need Terms and Conditions, Privacy and Cookie Policies?

Website Legal Policies

Communication and commercial dealings have always gone hand-in-hand. This is true more so now than ever before, with our ever-increasing accessibility to online devices, whether on our computers, tablets or mobile phones. As a result of this instantaneous access to new information, the company website has become a key tool for businesses to deliver their products, services, and culture to a wider market.

Websites empower businesses by allowing them to reach and be reached by new and existing consumers at the click of a button. Given the high level of commerce conducted in the digital sphere, businesses must be ever vigilant in protecting their interests in respect of website activity. Consumer protection is equally important; with the threat of identity fraud still prevalent in our online activity, the private information of website users must also be guarded.

We don't have to make a trade-off between security and privacy. I think technology gives us the ability to have both. John Poindexter

Businesses may incur a number of pitfalls if they do not take the relevant precautions to ensure that the correct safeguards are in place, including litigation proceedings (which can be lengthy, expensive and damaging to your brand!). Luckily, businesses can limit and even avoid altogether these pitfalls from the get-go by having the right terms and conditions (T&Cs) and privacy policies on their websites. These will cover both businesses and their customers to ensure that both parties can conduct their affairs in a hassle-free environment.

Protecting your Business: Terms of Use and Conditions

The homepages of most websites will show what is known as the terms of use, which act as a contract between the owners of the website and its users. Such terms typically include:

  • The rights and obligations between the site’s owners and users
  • How the website and its content should be used
  • How and when the website may be accessed
  • Any liabilities the business can and cannot incur if problems arise

While having such T&Cs is not a strict legal requirement, it is advantageous to include such terms so as to offer businesses the best possible protection. Prevention rather than cure is a concept by which most businesses operate, and so the inclusion of T&Cs is helpful for commercial and practical reasons:

  • It means that the information on your site relating to businesses is not open to user abuse (e.g. uploading unauthorized content and unauthorized reproduction).
  • The inclusion of T&Cs serves to limit any liability businesses could face; having clearly stated terms can shield businesses against site visitors who may wish to take court action in an unfortunate circumstance.
  • Having terms of use provides clarity for both businesses and website users; any rights and obligations owed by either party will be clearly defined and will allow both to carry on with their respective business.

Protecting your Users’ Information: Cookies and Privacy Policy

A number of business sites, particularly those involved in the buying or selling of goods and/or services, will naturally have to collect certain information about their customers. This collection of private information invites the need for a clearly stated privacy policy, which (unlike a terms of use agreement) is required by law.

A privacy policy informs users as to data protection matters. The policy will include how businesses handle any personal information that users may contribute in using their website. Under EU data protection regulations, a policy must be in place if a website collects details including a customer’s name, address, date of birth, payment details, etc.

Cookies are used to monitor how customers use a website. This allows businesses to tailor and improve the user’s experience based on the individual’s preferences. Websites must include an adequate policy if they measure visitor use in this way in addition to complying with the following:

  • Informing visitors that the cookies are present
  • Explaining the function of the cookies are doing and why
  • Obtaining the consent of the user to store a cookie on their device

As with Terms and Conditions, there is a clear commercial benefit for businesses in having a transparent data policy on their websites:

  • Terms and Conditions help to build trust and confidence between the business and the consumer

Not having an adequate privacy policy breaches principles under the Data Protection Act. Businesses can incur hefty fines for breach, up to £500,000!

What's Next?

The key for businesses and site visitors when it comes to the web is safety first! Both Terms and Conditions and Privacy and Cookie policies on websites should be aimed at clarity and transparency, allowing businesses to continue offering their goods and service and giving customers a way to use business websites securely with peace of mind. Further information can be found at the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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