Privacy Statements - Linden Legal Strategies |Business Attorneys For the New Economy

If you’re like me, the Internet is your research center, your library, your grocery store, your mall, your newspaper, your magazine rack, your mailbox, your community center and countless other virtuals that you view on a 4 inch to 17 inch screen.  It is also a high-speed camera equipped with a telephoto lens that is recording snapshots of (as Sting and the Police would say) “every move you make, every step you take, [it] will be watching you”.  No one would walk into a brick and mortar store and give a complete stranger his wallet, but this unbelievable disclosure of personal information is exactly what each of us is doing every time we log onto a website.  Blindly agreeing to the “privacy policy” and accepting the “terms and conditions” in order to use a website and accepting the use of cookies to “enhance the user experience” is all so commonplace that most of us don’t stop to consider the consequences.

WAIT…WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

At the bottom of a website (other than the one that you are on right now), look for the “privacy statement” and the “terms of use”. As a reward for your diligence in making it to the end of the webpage, you get to decipher the usually highly technical language of the privacy policy and a blanket terms of use of the website. The unsuspecting user may find that in the best-case scenario the casual visit to this one website could result in a release of at least one piece of personal information. When you multiply that release of information by the number of websites you visit daily, you will end up with a presence online that is bigger than you could have ever imagined.

Through articles and blogs like this one, website users are becoming better informed about the information they are agreeing to have released. Businesses that maintain websites will be challenged to simplify their disclosure statements. This simplification must be achieved while satisfying the disclosure guidance expected by the FTC and other regulatory and administrative agencies.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE IN YOUR PRIVACY POLICY?

Although the FTC and other federal and state agencies have addressed the need for a uniform framework for protecting consumer privacy, no uniform data security legislation has been passed. There is no expectation that any uniform legislation will occur anytime in the near future. However, the FTC has outlined the framework for a baseline privacy best practices in its 2012 Recommendation Report “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change”:

“*Privacy By Design…

*Simplified Choice for Businesses and Consumers, and

*Greater Transparency.”

“Privacy By Design” encourages companies to design their business models to incorporate practices, which increase privacy. These include data security, data collection limits and valid retention and disposal programs. “Simplified Choice for Businesses and Consumers” anticipates that many businesses collect personal information in an effort to offer consumers more choices in products and services. Often this practice prematurely collects information in anticipation that sometime in the future based on consumers current habits, some particular choice or product may be desired. By simplifying business and consumer choices based on behavioral tracking, a material amount of private information will be protected. The FTC has strongly recommended the development of a uniform “DO NOT TRACK” feature for consumers to initiate at any time in the data collection process. Lastly, businesses are encouraged to educate their customers about data collection and privacy practices by being transparent about the type of information being collected and the ways in which the information is used by the business or others.  The FTC strongly believes that the best means by which consumer privacy can be maintained is through self-regulation by businesses.

Privacy StatementsDOES MY BUSINESS REALLY HAVE TO DO THIS?

Maybe and maybe not…It is anticipated that privacy disclosure and legislation will apply to businesses “that collect or use consumer data that can be linked to a specific consumer, computer, or other device, unless the business collects only non-sensitive data from less than 5000 consumers per year and does not share any data collected with any third parties.” However, that being said, businesses that do not adopt the framework will be at a distinct disadvantage as customers come to expect protection of their private information.

SIMPLE IS BETTER, TRUTH REIGNS SUPREME

The best privacy policy is one that forces the business decision-maker to collect or gain access only to essential information. By identifying the information actually needed from users of the business’ website, the privacy policy and terms and conditions disclosures are made simpler because less information is being collected. Regardless of what private information is being collected, shared or otherwise used, truthfulness of the disclosures is the uniformly agreed upon standard on which every privacy policy should be drafted.

WHAT CAN YOUR BUSINESS DO?

The easiest answer is to collect only the information you need to turn a website user into a customer. Businesses should protect website visitors’ personal information by using website development companies that are actively addressing the need for protection and for simplification. Linden Legal Strategies PLLC has focused on the advantages for all parties to use simple language to describe the information-gathering process. We have developed an easy to use questionnaire and formula to help business owners focus on the personal private information of website visitors that are essential to the profit-making purpose of the business.  Looking to add a Privacy Statement to your site or have questions about the type of information you want or need to collect, schedule your free initial consultation and let’s talk about your needs.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.  Always consult appropriate legal counsel for specific questions related to your business. Some states may consider this attorney advertising.

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Terri Amernick is an attorney with Linden Legal Strategies PLLC, a Richmond, Virginia-based law firm focusing on small business law and development. To learn more about how Linden Legal Strategies can help you start, grow and protect your business, or to schedule an initial consultation, contact Terri.