five essential terms your website needs

Five Essential Terms Your Website Needs

The Internet can be a scary place to conduct commerce. Security breaches and piracy threats abound. While there are many technological measures you can take to protect your company in the digital space, the primary legal tool is a company’s “Terms of Use”. These terms are a company’s attempt to make a contract with its website users to protect itself from harmful activities. That way, the company can try to reserve itself a lawsuit for breaching the contract, or even try to defend against frivolous actions. When gathering your desired terms, consider these five essential terms your website needs:

1. Agreement to the Terms

Your Terms of Use must explain when and how they apply. There are generally two schools of thought, one better than the other: you can require that people click something that acknowledges the existence of the terms of use and requires the person to agree before continuing to browse (the “click-through” or “click-wrap” agreement), or you can simply post a notice that announces the existence of the terms of use and claim that continued browsing is considered agreement (the “browse-wrap” agreement).

Don’t be fooled by the allure of the browse-wrap agreement. While it avoids the problem of adulterating the user experience, its protection is imaginary. learned that the hard way, when it tried to use the “browse-wrap” to bind its users to an agreement to take any disputes to an arbitrator instead of a court. The arbitration clause was found in its “Terms of Use,” which could be accessed via a link at the bottom of the page among what the court called a “sea of links….” After one of their browsing customers brought Zappos to court, the judge refused to recognize anything in the terms of use as binding because there was no evidence that consumers were made aware that the terms existed, let alone that the users agreed to them.

2. Scope of Acceptable Uses

Once visitors know that they’re subject to the terms of use, you need to explain to them the limits of what they can do during their visit. Your company might not want visitors doing a host of things, such as saving images, digging for private information, and more. For example, Dropbox prohibits its visitors from doing a number of unseemly things with its services. The main purpose of this term is to make it clear that you reserve the right to seek recourse – namely, the ability to file a lawsuit alleging that the user violated the terms of use and that your business was harmed by that violation.

3. Linking to the Website

Protecting your brand is paramount. You don’t want people linking to your website improperly, as this can be one way for competitors and others interested in your failure to co-opt your intellectual property and harm your business. Google has been sensitive to this and has made changes to its browser in an effort to curb these dangers.

4. Information Security

If you’re storing or using personal information, be transparent about the security methods that you’re using. This gives people who are uncomfortable with your level of security the chance to opt out of using your service. For example, if you use two-factor authentication and encryption, but that’s not enough for some people, let them know that. You’d rather not find out later that your security measures were deficient and become liable to every unwitting person that entrusted sensitive information with your company.

5. Disclaiming Liability

Giving specialized information is a good deed, and no good deed goes unpunished. People will ultimately rely on your information as advice and will try to sue you if that advice injures their interests. This problem arises because your expectations differ from those of the users: you think you’re educating people, but they think that you’re advising them. Use a disclaimer to clarify the relationship you’re creating with the user. Make it clear that nothing on your site constitutes advice, and that it’s no substitute for individual consultation with a professional (hopefully you, if that’s your business).

At the end of the day, you should consult an attorney to determine what terms work best for your website’s protection.