Can Your Website Visitors Really Trust You?

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Should your website or blog have a privacy policy? Why would you want to have one? Are there any laws that require a privacy policy? Do small businesses (like bed and breakfast inns) need a privacy policy? What should my privacy policy include?

Having a privacy policy is not something most small businesses think about when they think about content for their website. But should they? The short answer is yes.

Why have a privacy policy?

Confidential
Image courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/mynetx/
As of this writing, for most small businesses (there are exceptions for some businesses in health care or financial services industries, or if you collect information from children under 13 years of age), no US laws require that your website have a privacy policy. Don’t stop there, however, as there are other considerations.

1. US Efforts to Regulate Internet Content.

In the US legal arena, the federal government continues its efforts to regulate internet usage in a variety of ways. As these efforts continue to change, it would not be surprising to find that they result in either mandatory privacy policies, or provide additional protection for sites with privacy policies. If that should happen, having a reasonable and appropriate policy in place will be a very good thing.

2. Efforts to Regulate Internet Content by Other Countries.

Since many (perhaps most) B&B’s serve guests from other countries, and their websites are seen in other countries, the laws of those regions or countries may come into play if you collect data (including booking information) from citizens of those countries.

3. Privacy Expectations of Visitors.

Despite study after study showing that the majority of people using websites are concerned about their privacy to some degree, many websites do not have a privacy policy. Studies of the “Top 100 Websites” show as many as 97% having privacy policies, but larger studies of webistes conclude that as few as 2% have privacy policies.

Contrary to the statements of then 26-year old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that privacy is no longer a social norm, many disagree, and the survey information above sides with them – people do care about privacy.

Because of that, your privacy policy is a statement that gives people a reason to trust your company, trust your website, and trust you.

4. Agreements with Other Companies May Require a Privacy Policy

Even if none of the reasons above make you feel that a privacy policy is something you should have, your other business arrangements may compel you to have one. For example, Google’s Adsense terms of service require you to have a privacy policy. Others may have similar requirements.

In addition, some SEO consultants have stated that there is search engine value in having a privacy policy. One spoke of a client who removed their privacy policy falling noticeably in the search results, and climbing back up when the policy was restored.

If you need more persuading, simply search Why Have A Privacy Policy. In addition to lots of examples of real privacy policies, you’ll find dozens of articles giving many more reasons to have a privacy policy. You’ll find some of the best here, here and here.

Preparing Your Privacy Policy

Once again, search is your friend. There are many resources telling what items to include in your privacy policy, and even sites that will auto-generate a standard policy for you. Before completing your privacy policy, be sure to make sure it really applies to what you do on your website. Don’t just take the standard language and copy-and-paste it without changing anything.

Disclaimer: Although I was a lawyer for nearly 20 years, I am no longer practicing law, and am no longer a licensed attorney. Consequently, I am not attempting to provide legal advice to anyone in this (or any other) article. This article contains information I have located by my own search of the internet, and my only intent is to share the results of that research, and some of my own thoughts about it, with readers of this blog.

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