The Federal Trade Commission recommends privacy policies for most websites that collect and share consumer data, including data collected passively using cookies. What’s more, a few states, including California, require privacy policies for websites collecting various categories of data from their residents. Federal laws require privacy policies for businesses collecting sensitive data, such as personal information from children under 13, protected health information, or information collected to provide certain financial products or services (e.g., loans, investment advice, insurance) to consumers.
Keep it real. Say what you do and do what you say. Your policy is a pledge to your customers about how your business will handle and protect their personal data. It should accurately reflect data practices unique to your business. You can check out policies of similar businesses for inspiration, but don’t cut and paste another company’s policy – one size does not fit all!
Keep it current. Make sure your policy is updated if you change your business and privacy practices affecting customer data. Communicate any substantial changes in data use or sharing to customers before they take effect
Key Issues to Address in your Policy
What data is collected. Identify the types of data your site collects. In addition to names, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, credit card information, and IP addresses, you may be collecting information about your customers’ interests and purchase histories or demographic information such as their gender, age, income or marital status. Your analytics provider, your advertisers, your third party shopping cart or payment processor may all be collecting information on various parts of the site. These activities should be identified and consumers should be directed to any third party privacy policies that may apply.
How data is being collected. Online forms used to enter email details for newsletters and credit card data for purchases may be obvious to the consumer. Data collection using cookies and other trackers placed on the visitor’s computer browser may go unnoticed. You should clearly explain your cookie practices to customers.
What you are doing with the data. Tell your customers how you’re using their data and how, where and how long you will store it. If you share customer data with affiliates or service providers, sell data you collect to business partners, or allow marketers or others to collect data on your site, be sure to explain what information is being shared or sold and how it may be used.
How customers can control their data. Provide a point of contact at your business – an email address or phone number - to help customers change passwords, unsubscribe from mailing lists, close accounts, or complain if there’s a problem. If marketers are using your site to collect browsing data for interest-based advertising, you should also provide customers with opt-out information for this activity.
How you protect the data. You should be protecting customer data with strong data integrity and security measures. You can reference these measures in your published policy to provide assurance to your customers, but avoid going into detail -- publicly revealing too much about your security practices could put your systems at risk.
Remember, you are legally responsible for abiding by the privacy promises you make in your policy. If you have questions about your obligations, seek legal guidance before finalizing the policy to make sure it complies with federal and state laws that may apply to your business.
Looking Under the Hood