Internet Legal Issues: Privacy Policy

The Internet is a tool with which most people are familiar, but how much do you know about Internet privacy? When you visit a website, do you automatically check to see if they have a privacy policy, or do you surf on the wild side without any thought to how your personal information is collected?

The issue is not necessarily with the information that you knowingly provide – such as signing up for a newsletter or filling out a credit card application – but that which is collected without your knowledge. A privacy policy should indicate exactly what type of information is stored from each visitor – such as the IP address – but a site without a privacy policy may be collecting much more from you each time you click on their link.

Ideally, a privacy policy should indicate what type of information is collected from visitors, how that information is used, and whether or not the information is shared (i.e. given or sold) with third parties to whom a visitor may or may not want to do business with. Although most small business and information sites should not be an issue, many of the larger websites have had numerous privacy issues, such as Google, Yahoo! and America Online.

Consumers who keep track of the new legislation and the new software products should be concerned about privacy issues. Starting just a few years ago, marketing software has been released that can help companies to collect information from visitors without their knowledge. Further, legislation has been introduced which is rather non-specific in nature that might help companies who are indicted on privacy issues to slip through the cracks. What exactly is fair game when it comes to privacy? And how far will a company go to collect information from visitors that might be a breach of self-regulation models?

What makes this even more intriguing (and dangerous) is that the Internet spreads over international, national and state jurisdictions between which privacy laws and regulations may differ widely. Consumers all over the world are beginning to see reason for privacy policy regulation, and it is advisable for all e-commerce or Internet business sites to have a privacy policy.

This is especially true for e-commerce sites that cater to children. It is becoming a reality that children and teenagers browse the Internet – both supervised and unsupervised – and for that reason, companies must be careful what they make available. It is nearly impossible to shield all children from the dangers of the Internet, but in order to protect themselves and the children to whom they market, web businesses are encouraged to have a privacy policy that addresses the issue of children specifically.

What this all boils down to is that a web-based business must have a way to build trust with its consumer base, and this has a lot to do with privacy. By posting a privacy policy on its site, a business automatically engenders some degree of confidence from its customers, and may actually do much more for business than would selling, sharing or illegally disseminating private information about those customers.

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