The Boring Parts of a Website: Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Creating a new website is fun. It’s fun right up to the part where it’s time to write a terms of use and privacy policy. At that point, most website owners find something more entertaining to do than work on their website.

Known by some as “legalese,” these policies are also known as the boring parts. No one wants to write them, and some people just don’t do them at all. Not creating terms of use and privacy policies for a website is a serious mistake, and one which can be avoided by knowing why they are important and how to create them.

Why It Is Needed

Why does a website need terms of service? Put simply, terms of service are a contract between the website owner and the website visitor, detailing what the site owner will and will not do and what the visitor can and cannot do on the site.

Terms of service provide information to visitors about what to expect. This includes payment expectations, customer support expectations, and other expectations. To create useful terms of service, website owners must know their goals for the site and what they want and expect visitors to do on the site.

Terms of service should also take into consideration the site owner’s possible liability. This means thinking about what the site owner might do, omit to do, or do wrong to create liability.

Third, terms of service should consider what customers want from the site and what they want to do. For instance, if customers subscribe to the site, confidentiality is an issue. If they buy something, the quality of the product is an issue to be addressed in terms of service.

Terms of service are an agreement. Providing a way for customers to acknowledge that they agree to the terms of service ensures that users of the site really do consent to be bound by the terms of service.

Privacy Policies

As important as the terms of service is the privacy policy, if not more important.

A privacy policy is, quite simply, a statement defining what a website does with private information collected from visitors.

At first blush, it might appear that the privacy policy protects a site’s visitors. They have a clear idea of what will and will not be done with their information once they share it with the site. Certainly visitors are protected by a valid privacy policy, and this is the primary aim of laws in various states requiring privacy policies on websites.

Site owners should consider, however, the protection they get from having a privacy policy. California, for one, requires privacy policies on websites, and failure to comply with legal requirements may result in fines, website closure, or both.

Even more important than the protection from prosecution is the protection from visitors. When a website has no privacy policy, visitors have no idea what will be done with their information, and they have not given their permission for any use of their personally identifiable information. If a site uses that information in any way that a visitor objects to, the visitor has grounds for action.

By creating a solid privacy policy, website owners protect themselves from misunderstanding of how the information will be used.

There are several articles online which offer tips on how to write privacy policies as well as links to privacy policy generators and templates.

Writing terms of service and privacy policies is not fun. In fact, it can be exactly the opposite of fun. It’s also not optional. Every website must have these policies in place, clearly visible from the front page. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult.

Mark Daoust is the owner of Quiet Light Brokerage, Inc., professional consultants to website owners who want to sell their profitable, established websites.

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