Why You Need a Terms of Use and Privacy Policy Page on Your Website

1 Nov 2017

Do you have a Privacy Policy and Terms of Website Use page on your website?  If you don't, this is something to take care as soon as you can.  There are three good reasons -- 


1. Google requires it if you are using Google Analytics

2. The FTC may require it

3. HIPAA privacy compliance for paper files isn't enough for websites



Google and Other Analytics


If you are using Google Analytics, Statcounter, Visitor Analytics or any other program that tracks who is coming to your website, how they navigate around and interact with the site -- which has been a common part of search engine optimization for many years -- you are essentially collecting information about the behavior of every visitor you get.


You are also collecting their computer's IP address, what browser and device they use online, and where they are located. Pretty personal stuff.


Depending on what kind of extra applications you might be using on your website -- such as bookings apps, payment portals or just a couple PayPal buttons, newsletter subscription forms, questionnaires, members only login pages, forums, comments on blogs, and so on -- it is possible and likely  that the apps could put cookies on your visitors' computers.


The use of cookies is a normal techie operation when using the internet and most of us never think twice about it. But because cookies work to track and store certain data about website visitors, it is becoming a concern due to the potential for invasion of privacy.


This data is deemed to be covered by internet privacy regulations. As such you as the collector (aka, user of the analytics program's gathered info) are required to notify visitors what you intend to do with that information and how you store it.


The Federal Trade Commission


The FTC is empowered to sue website owners for false advertising. This can includes more than just testimonials without disclaimers. Their reach extends to guarantees of email address privacy including the safeguarding of names and addresses, and any other info you request in a contact or subscription form, questionnaire, or freebie give-away access form.


In short, it's not enough to simply say somewhere near a form: "We respect your email privacy" or "Your email address is never sold or shared".  


You should also be telling people what it means to use those forms on your site -- that it doesn't constitute mental health care, or career advice, that you won't be sending a slew of random emails, but that the info they volunteer could be required by law to be released if subpoenaed.


Coaches, readers, and healers, as well as psychotherapists, who provide consultation services by email should also have a provision about not discussing 3rd parties without their permission.




It's ridiculous but possible that we in the US are also required to post similar statements as that required by Google that comply with the laws of other countries regarding privacy and the collection of computer data commonly done by analytics programs. 


Coaches, healers, readers, and others who actively seek to market globally may be required to additionally comply with the European Union's demand for a Cookies notice on your homepage. Wix makes that easy if you have a Wix website. 


If your business is based in California, there may be specific requirements about the precise nature of the link to your privacy page. https://termsfeed.com/blog/where-place-privacy-policy/


If you give away free info products such as audio file meditations or pdf file special reports and require people to provide more than an email address to download the file, or if you have online questionnaires on your website by which you collect personal intake history, diagnostic or needs assessment information along with an email address, name, website url, phone number, etc., it would be best to provide the link to your privacy and data collection / use policies near the submit button for those forms.  


HIPAA rules how you store such questionnaires in hard copy in your office or digitally on your personal computer, but additional laws rule how that info is collected on your website.  


A Terms of Use and Privacy Policy page is necessary. It is common to provide a link in your site footer for accessing the page, and in California it must also be visible in your main menu.


Policies and Terms are Legal Statements


The Privacy and Terms Page of your website constitutes a legal document. While there are a number of places where you can get a generic P&T statement online, almost none I've seen are really perfectly applicable for therapists, coaches, healers, and psychics.


I strongly advise you to write your own, or have me adapt one of mine for your website. If I built your website, I can do that for you for a very low fee -- probably less than your hourly rate.  Here's one example that I recently added to a therapist's website:  JocelynBailey.net/privacyterms .  One that is more applicable for healers and readers can be found here: ShamanicAwakenings. Or, if you want a more designerly approach for presenting your terms and policies, here's a more creative idea: DeWixDoctor.com/privacy-policy-terms-of-use .


And then since I am not a lawyer, whether you borrow from mine or have me write yours, get it checked with an attorney familiar with both privacy and internet law if possible. Attorneys who don't practice in those fields may not know enough about law covering websites to advise you on this.



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