The majority of companies today rely in some fashion on their online presence. Whether it’s a restaurant seeking positive reviews or a retailer offering its goods for purchase, the modern business interacts with customers over the Internet on a daily basis. While most business owners understand how best to engage with their customers, not all are familiar with how their company’s website projects to those browsing online. As demands for data protection and online transparency continue to increase, it is important to realize how a website can impact a business’s legal liabilities or its relationship with customers. An easy step in the right direction is an updated terms of service or website privacy policy.

Most companies will include a link to a privacy policy somewhere on their website. The purpose of doing so is to provide online visitors with information concerning the company’s collection of the visitor’s personal information via the website, how that information is used, and how a visitor can obtain that information from the company. Legal disclaimers are typically included as well. However, the average internet user has neither the time nor the experience to distill the primary takeaways from these policies. Therefore, businesses should strive to provide privacy policies that are as simple and straightforward as possible. Creating an updated but straightforward privacy policy allows companies to clearly spell out to website visitors the terms under which both parties operate.

The positive impacts of a simplified privacy policy are twofold. First, the updated, clear terms should create safety nets for the company in the unfortunate event of a data breach or related lawsuit. Many states may begin to require privacy policies with plain language similar to what is already required in California.Staying current on legal requirements mitigates the risk associated with an online presence. As these legal requirements become more stringent, creating legal protections will be important.

Second, the simpler privacy policy cultivates an image of honesty and trustworthiness in the eyes of customers. A recent Deloitte survey found that 97% of people ages 18-34 do not read a website’s terms and services policies before consenting to them. More than likely, most readers find the terms to be cumbersome and intentionally confusing. However, if a company were to present a policy with plain language, customers may associate the company with a sense of fairness and honesty (think of the positive public relations companies with eco-friendly ideals experience).

Going forward, businesses should be aware of what their privacy policies say and how they comply with relevant legal requirements. Updating a privacy policy not only reduces legal exposure, but it contains the possibility of improved public relations. Ideally, the customer, and subsequently the business, benefits from both.

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Law Firm of Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry, S.C.

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