Website Privacy in Focus

New legislation introduced last month would require websites that reach California residents to rework privacy policies with the goal of making them easier to digest. In recent months both the Federal government and the European Union have also pushed renewed efforts to clean up website data collection practices. Industry experts are responding by proposing new ways of thinking about such policies. The recent user outrage over Instagram’s attempt to slip harsh new provisions into its updated terms of use, clearly shows that consumers too are increasingly aware of website policies. Given this changing privacy climate, it’s probably a good time for businesses to take a second look at their privacy policies and reconsider the mission of such documents.

Marketing or Legal

Rather than view privacy policies, and for that matter terms of use, from a purely legal perspective, experts are trending towards a more user friendly approach which integrates these documents into the overall marketing of a website. Because the policies are required, and hiding them away in a dusty corner of the site might lead to legal trouble, why not turn your site’s privacy precautions in your favor? Use your company’s privacy policy as a direct marketing tool. This might require a bit of work on your end, but it’ll pay off in the long run.

So what exactly does a user friendly, and marketing ready, privacy policy look like? The specifics will depend on the nature of your website but some general guidelines follow.

Keep it Short

Despite being ever more aware of the existence and importance of privacy policies, end users are still reticent to read through 3000 words of legalize. A good privacy policy should be short, as in very short. Most policies can fit into just a few hundred words, if well written.

and Sweet

Your customers are probably not attorneys, so don’t make them hire one just to access your site. Write your privacy policy so that anyone with a high school education can digest its content. Chances are pretty good that if you can’t make sense of the document, no one else can either. If you want users to trust your website, simple language works best. This doesn’t mean that you have to dumb down the concepts, but it does mean that you should avoid 50 cent words and scholarly sounding sentence structure or legalize.

Be Honest

While we’re not here to give you legal advice, our understanding is that some policies are enforceable against the website posting them. This means that you may be legally accountable for what you put in the policy. Don’t write a policy that tells users you’ll never share their data with a third party unless you really never will. Users generally aren’t dumb. They don’t mind that you have to do things certain (reasonable) things with their data but they do hate being lied to. Make sure that whatever you put in the policy is actually representative of the way you process and store sensitive data.

Be Complete

If you’re going to go through the effort of turning your privacy policy into a marketing tool, make sure you’re filling out all the details. Attempts to hide the ball from users might be more transparent than you think and will only undermine your efforts to earn the trust of your visitors.

Be Conspicuous

If you’re proud of the way you handle user data, show it. Put the privacy policy in a conspicuous part of your website. Attempts to bury the policy or make visitors feel like they just stumbled into a dark alley (or worse, another site altogether) will do more to undermine user confidence than just about any other practice. Take visual ownership of your policy and give your users the security of know that you actually want them to see the privacy policy.

Legal Considerations

When used strategically, a good privacy policy can play an important role in your site’s marketing strategy. However, companies must also take them seriously from a legal perspective. While we advocate writing your policy first as a marketing tool, and then as a legal device, we need to remind you never to post any new policy without first clearing it with your attorney. The law is rapidly changing and you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of new legislation, the costs could be severe.

Let Ottenhoff Consulting Help

We know websites and we can write. If you are considering updating, or implementing, a privacy policy let Ottenhoff Consulting help. We can draft marketing friendly privacy policies specifically tailored to your business model. You’ll still need to take whatever we create to an attorney, but most lawyers charge a lot less for document review than for document creation. Contact us today to discuss your project.

Ottenhoff Consulting is not qualified to offer legal advice on this, or other topics, and is not making any attempt to do so in this article. In no case should you publish or update a privacy policy without first consulting a licensed attorney with experience in this legal area. The tips provided in this article are not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.


Kjeld Lindsted Kjeld Lindsted
Content Architecture, Copywriting, and Editing
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