As a website or app owner, Terms of Service and Privacy Policies aren’t just walls of text to scan or a box to check. They are legal documents for which you are continuously responsible.

No matter what your business is offline, any digital presence – a site, native app, a social media account, or banner ad – means you have an online business. One part of managing this online business is being compliant with your vendors’ and third-party services’ Terms of Service and Privacy Policies. Even if you have a digital partner (like Clockwork) or a media planner, it’s your business that has the legal agreement with services and networks that you use. This means that any updates or changes to those policies may affect you and how you represent your business online.

Here are some recommendations to help you understand this often-overlooked aspect of digital business. 

Terms of Service

What they are

Terms of Service are a detailed set of rules you must follow if you use a particular technology or service. We encounter them a lot as users of certain sites (like agreeing to the Terms of Service when joining a social network), but there are also Terms of Service when you use or integrate a particular product or service as part of your own site or application. These are frequently called API or Developer Terms of Service. These spell out the rules that businesses or websites using that particular product or service must follow. 

Why you should care

Any time you use a third-party product on your site, you are in a legally binding partnership with that third-party company for as long as the technology is being used. And most sites and apps these days use some third-party services to help make their online business effective: perhaps it’s a Pinterest button to promote products, a Twitter feed to show what’s being talked about, or an analytics tracker to monitor site traffic. 

That means Terms of Service are a critical part of your business. If you’re tapping into a third-party technology like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, AddThis, or Google Analytics, you’re obligated to follow their Terms of Service. This can impact how the product or service is used. For example if you have a Twitter feed embedded on your website, there are specific criteria that the display and feed must meet. 

What you should do

Twice a year, your business and legal team should review all digital Terms of Service for the third-party products or services your business uses. Ask things like: Are there any new terms? If so, are we comfortable with them? How do they affect what we do on our site or app and how do they affect our users? Have any terms been omitted? If so, how does that change what we need (or do not need) to do?

Privacy Policies

What they are

Website and app privacy policies let users know what information is being collected and how it’s being used.

Why you should care

Having a website or app means that you are an online business — even if your primary business is selling books or running a not-for-profit. And similar to Terms of Service, Privacy Policies are a requirement of doing business on the Internet. Privacy concerns have grown as users’ familiarity with the Internet and the technologies used to power the Internet have grown. This means being able to tell your users exactly what you are doing with the information that’s being collected. 

The bottom line is that businesses evolve, and your Privacy Policy must be in lock step with it. It can’t be any more permanent than the other content on your site. 

Another aspect to consider is that Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of your third-party technologies can change at any time, which may affect your own Privacy Policy. Google recently updated its Terms of Service for Google Analytics (GA). Google now require all sites using GA make it clear to their users that they are using GA and also spell out what they are doing with the data that’s collected. An edit to GA Terms of Service has impacted millions of Privacy Policies around the globe. At minimum Google now requires a link to the GA Terms of Service. At Clockwork, we added a Privacy Policy link to our footer that takes people to this basic page that meets Google’s requirements.

What you should do

Review your Privacy Policy once a year, and review all of your third-party technology’s Privacy Policies as well. Ask things like: Is the information still accurate? Are there details or uses that we are not explaining? Have our third-party partners changed any terms or policies? If so, do they render our Privacy Policy inaccurate? 

Change with the Internet

One of the amazing things about the Internet is that it changes constantly. Content, sites, apps, companies, and technology shift and evolve every day. While that’s the fun part, it’s also the challenge. Being secure and protected within the changing landscape requires diligence, but it’s a critical step in staying up-to-date and legally sound.