Privacy Policies, Copyright Infringement, and Spam, Oh My!
You took your business online because technology made it easier. While a lot of the tutorials and “User-Friendly” applications make it sound like the whole business of running a business online can be accomplished by anyone, you probably already know there’s a bit more to it than that. Whether you’re running a strictly online venture or you’ve added social media and a web presence to your real-world business, there are some legal requirements for websites that you might not know. We’ve compiled an easy-to-read list as you manage your website.
Legal Requirements for Websites
Like most things in the legal realm, the wording of the actual statutes are lengthy, often confusing and not the most exciting read. So, we’re going to give you an overview of a few important points to keep your website on the right side of the law.
- GDPR. General Data Protection Regulation is a European law protecting the rights of EU citizens. GDPR specifically looks at how a website records a visitors information, and what it does with it. You might be asking why you should care about laws in Europe. Well, if you have any customers, or website visitors, in the European Union and your company does not comply with their data laws you could face prosecution.
- CCPA. The California Consumer Privacy Act is California’s version of GDPR. It is designed to protect the data of customers interacting with businesses in California in much the same way as the European legislation. CCPA specifically focuses on companies of a certain size, or businesses that make their money from selling customer information. So make sure you read through our detailed post to see if your business is implicated. If you’re not based in California then don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet, other states are also considering bringing in their own online privacy legislation.
- eCommerce Considerations. This is a wide topic, but any transaction online is governed by the same laws which govern an in-person transaction. Your online presence may also include public user boards and your user terms of service should be in place. You should also have a “take down” policy for items that are deemed defamatory or in violation of copyright or trademark laws. If you’re selling on your website make sure you have encrypted personal information via HTTPS (to be honest pretty much all sites should now be HTTPS, but it is even more important for sites dealing with financial transactions).
- Collection of Personal Information. There are specific laws which govern the collection of personal information, such as IP addresses. If you’re collecting personal information with analytics or through the function of your online presence, make sure you’re aware of all of the laws that apply.
- Copyrighted Content. Your own content should be protected from copyright infringement through use of symbols and notices of conditions of any reproduction of content. You should also research safe harbor laws to make certain you’re protected from claims of copyright infringement. From an SEO point of view this is also important because if you are caught with content that is not unique on your website, you may be subject to a Google penalty.
- Content Attribution. It’s important to include attribution for any work not created or purchased by your company. This applies to both written content as well photography and graphics. Creative commons images can be easy on your wallet; yet there are differing levels of attribution. Be aware of what usage rights and follow them.
- The Can-Spam Act. You’re probably aware of Can-Spam by now, but it’s worth being reminded that if you misuse any type of email marketing, you can be fined up to $16,000.00! We recommend using tools like Mailchimp to send out mass emails. Mailchimp will automatically flag up any spammy tactics you might inadvertently use. But it won’t catch everything. Make sure you’re in compliance with the FTC’s rules and regulations. Getting permission from your leads before you email them is vitally important, and not just because of the risk of an FTC fine. Permission-based marketing is a much better way of getting customers than spray and pray spam tactics.
- Accessibility. This is exactly what it sounds like, but you might be surprised to know that there are rules guiding your websites accessibility for the disabled. In 2019 we have seen a number of lawsuits over the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2020 this is sure to rise as awareness is still very low on this issue. In general you should always try to make your website as accessible as possible to as many people as you can. The more visitors that can use your site the better. But now that we’re seeing companies getting fined for non-compliance this is becoming a ‘must-have’ not just a ‘would-like’.
This list is in no way complete, but it is a good start to researching a few of the ways that you may be in compliance or violation of legal requirements for websites. If you’ve read through the laws and aren’t sure, we’d recommend hiring legal counsel to avoid hefty fines or potential damage to your business’ credibility.
What other legal requirements for websites would you add to our list?
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photo credit – top: Michael Coghlan
photo credit – body: Rohan Kar