The Importance Of Having A Privacy Policy For Your Website

Why does a privacy policy have to be on your radar?

Just about every website you visit these days is throwing a statement about privacy in your face and asking for consent. While this could be annoying for site users, it’s for their benefit, and changes in data privacy law will eventually make it mandatory. Beyond that, it’s really just a best practice and a way for business owners to protect themselves and their customers. 

Let’s get into what a privacy policy is, and why it’s something that needs to be on your radar.

What Is A Privacy Policy?

Put simply, a privacy policy is a statement used to describe how your website collects, uses, and manages the personal data of your customers and site visitors. It typically serves as a legal document that can protect your company, customers, and potentially even third parties.

Why are privacy policies needed? First off, because privacy is a space that each individual is entitled to–it’s a basic right. To intrude, a company needs permission. And since until not long ago, it was assumed that browsing a website was something done in privacy, when companies are in fact using that data, it needs to be disclosed. Consumers need a choice as well, either to opt in, opt out, or customize their digital data use. The statement they’re presented with when accessing a website could be referred to as a privacy policy, privacy statement, privacy notice, or by some other term, but the end goal is the same.

Who Needs a Privacy Policy?

Every website that collects or tracks data needs to have a privacy policy. And these days, if you’re hoping for any kind of online presence, tracking user data is absolutely vital to SEO and targeted marketing efforts. But it could be as simple as keeping records of email addresses for a newsletter, or birthdays for a yearly coupon offer. If you’re collecting and storing names, credit card numbers, or anything more sensitive then you obviously need to use that valuable data wisely. The same holds true for mobile apps, desktop apps, blogs, and ecommerce stores–everyone who is collecting data needs to disclose this information to users.

It’s true that the United States at this moment doesn’t have any national legislation pertaining to digital data privacy. That said though, both 2023 and 2024 will see several states enacting their own data privacy laws. This is just the beginning, and new states are being added all the time (check the IAPP’s site to see where your state stands). On top of this fact, since the internet is a wide open, borderless place, folks from countries across the globe that do have data privacy laws on the books may be accessing your website. A privacy policy is a simple way to protect yourself and your site visitor, and the cost of potential litigation alone is reason enough to comply with this international standard. Get ahead of the curve and take the time to figure out your company’s policy statement now, before it becomes mandatory and a mad dash for compliance.

Of course some data privacy laws are dictated by industry, not location. So if your website is marketed to children under 13 or if you are a medical professional, then the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) automatically apply. 

Privacy Policy Benefits

Besides showing that your business is on the up-and-up and protecting against legal action, having a comprehensive privacy policy in place can help your business in other ways. If you deal with certain third-party apps and services, they may require you to disclose data processing policies. It’s a protection for them and for you, and of course, your customers. In fact some of the most robust tools used today for digital marketing–like Google AdSense and Google Analytics–will likely require that you have a privacy policy. 

It also goes far to earn consumers’ trust, and modern consumers care more about how their data is used than ever before. In fact, surveys have shown that users will stop interacting with a company due to privacy concerns and many feel that companies need to do more to protect data online. So making the effort to have a comprehensive privacy policy available to site users is one way to show that you value the data they share when they visit your site.

On the flipside, statistics also bear out that a privacy policy can be a marketing tool. Participants said that they were only willing to share their data with a company they trust. Some even said they’d spend more with a company that they knew was protecting their data. Clearly, data privacy can yield positives for companies and consumers alike. And in this day and age, when data breaches and cyber crime are rampant, a robust data privacy policy is one way to show that your company takes a security-first stance. It also gives the impression to users that you’re keeping up with the latest technology.

Here’s one last hidden gem of a reason to have a privacy policy on your website–it has SEO and digital marketing benefits! Google and other search engines prioritize websites that are putting privacy first, and that could mean a higher ranking in search results and a serious bump in site traffic.

In the end, having a privacy policy is just the right thing to do, whatever your reasons. You’d hope for as much from the companies’ websites that you frequent, so it only makes sense to do the same for your customers.

How To Build Your Company’s Privacy Policy

Now that you see why it’s so important to have a company privacy policy, you might be ready to get going on drafting and enacting one, but don’t know how or where to start. We totally get that. This is an ongoing, evolving process that will likely change as new legislation takes effect and new threats or liabilities are uncovered. 

Before you get started, you may need to customize privacy guidelines to your industry. You might also want to step back from your typical procedures and ask yourself:

  • What information needs to be collected, and why?
  • Is there a law requiring (or forbidding) data collection? 
  • Is data collection necessary to make the site operational? 
  • Do we collect data strictly to customize the user’s experience?
  • Is collected data used for marketing purposes?
  • How can we notify consumers prior to collection?
  • How exactly is consumer data collected?

Once you have a better idea of how data collection intersects with what your company does, you’ll need to find a way to succinctly explain to customers which parts of your organization concern them. If you’re collecting and using customer data in any way, you need to be transparent about a few key things:

  • What data you’re collecting
  • How you plan to use it
  • Whether you’re sharing the data with third parties domestically or internationally
  • What you’re doing to keep that information safe and secure
  • Whether your policy is subject to updates and how you’ll inform consumers
  • The rights that individuals have over their data and how they can act on their rights

On top of including your privacy policy on your website, it can also be made available for users to request a copy that they can download and print. New and emerging laws will also typically require that you present users with the opportunity to opt out of data collection.

All in all, your company’s privacy policy should aim to accurately set limitations for your business, and expectations for your customer. This can be especially important if you aren’t housing data yourself but utilizing third parties to process and store data.

Final Thoughts on Privacy Policies

Yes, this could be a lot to take in. But once you’ve processed everything on your end you’ll be able to distill the information down to the most essential information that you can then share with your customers. Be sure to also include relevant contact information so that customers can easily get in touch with you, should they have questions or concerns. Short, clear, and thorough is the end goal. We’d recommend consulting your attorney to ensure that your privacy policy hits the mark, satisfies any requirements laid out by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and that it will work to protect you, your site users and customers.

Here at Alt Media Studios, we aren’t equipped to advise you on the nitty gritty legalities involved in drafting that just-right privacy policy for your website. But if you don’t currently have a privacy policy and aren’t able to work with an attorney to draft one, we do have recommendations on how to make sure you’re compliant. In the meantime, for help with any and all digital marketing needs, you know where to turn. Take care out there folks.

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