Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 30, 2017

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Privacy Almost every website has a privacy policy, but along with the legal terms that’s probably the page that gets read least.

One reason that people don’t bother to read privacy policies is that most of them are written in incomprehensible legalese.

However, for Instagram in the UK, a privacy lawyer rewrote the terms in more child-friendly (and adult-friendly) language, as Quartz reports.

Family History

Privacy policies have been (unusually) in the news recently thanks in part to a new genealogy site called FamilyTreeNow.com.

As an ABC News station reports, the site offers the same family history information to anyone with the same first and last name.

Identity thieves can use sites like this one to figure out things like your mother’s maiden name and the name of the street you grew up on.

Some site privacy policies allow personal information to be shared with, and sold to, third parties such as spam marketers.

Most sites have opt-out policies, but most people fail to take advantage of those.

Evernote

Another privacy policy in the news is the one from Evernote.

As Motherboard reported,

someone read Evernote’s policy and found out that the company was going to let engineers have access to user notes in an anonymized fashion. That didn’t go over well, even after a defense by the company’s CEO. The company eventually announced that it would back off the changes it was going to make…

Privacy Laws

In the early days of the Internet, privacy was often overlooked.

A 1998 FTC report to the US Congress showed that 85% of websites asked consumers for some kind of personal information, but only 2% has a comprehensive policy explaining how they planned to use that information.

That’s changed over the years.

Online privacy is now governed by a web of state and federal laws. These include:

Even people who live far from California benefit from the California privacy law. Because California has such a large share of the US population, and online markets want to be able to reach that audience, almost all websites in the US (and many around the world) comply with California website privacy laws.

Do you need a privacy policy?

If your website is “passive” — for example, you’re just showing off your photography or promoting your restaurant, but not collecting any information from visitors — you may not need a privacy policy at all.

If you cater to children, or if your website relates to highly regulated industries like healthcare or banking, you probably not only need a privacy policy but also need to comply with special privacy regulations.

The most important thing about any privacy policy is that it accurately states what types of information the website owner collects and what the owner does with that information.

Misstating how information is collected and/or used could lead to consumer lawsuits and even government prosecution.

That’s why it’s a bad idea to just copy some privacy policy you find on the internet.  It may not accurately describe how YOU collect and use information, and thus may actually hurt you rather than protect you as a website owner.