When It Comes to Internet Privacy Policies, Honesty Is Not Enough

When’s the last time you read an internet privacy policy or a terms of use notice? If you and your users are like most people, the answer is likely never—despite their presence in nearly every website and app. Most people are in a hurry and know the terms are non-negotiable. So, they click the ‘agree’ button and hope for the best. But people shouldn’t have to wish they’re dealing with a decent company.

Online businesses should earn their users’ trust—and loyalty—on every single page, including the ones driven by a legal team.

“But why care about fine print if people are going to agree without reading it anyway? Seems like a win, right?” Until it isn’t. Even if users seem unconcerned up front, they may still care later on. And when they do want to read the fine print—whether it’s their first visit or the one following a negative experience—what they see should be clear and user-friendly (not to mention accurate and transparent).

Here are some best practices for online policies that give users the information they need to understand what’s happening while they interact with your site.

Give users control
The best websites offer clarity and choice, so it’s easy for users and customers to make decisions and pick what they want to view or buy. Terms and Conditions (aka T&Cs), privacy policies, and data notices are all ways to give your users the same type of control.

– Make them feel like they’re in charge when they access your website, download your app, and provide their information.

– Use it as an opportunity to help avoid potential backlash if anyone ever finds something that does seem onerous.

Offer simplicity
Giant walls of text aren’t just daunting to look at, they’re boring to read. Instead, give users a way to get in, skim the text, and get out. That way, even if they only read a portion, they’ll still be able to glean a few key elements.

– Offer users a glimpse into what’s to come by offering a table of contents that highlights the various sections of your policies.

– Provide subheads and plain English wrap-ups or summaries that allow them to click through and see the more detailed policies. And give users a way to print or download a PDF of your policies so they can more easily read them offline if they prefer.

Instill confidence in them and in you
When it comes to data, tell site visitors why you need their information, how you intend to use it, and what it’s going to help you deliver for them. Taking such a straightforward approach may give them the confidence to share even more data with you by filling out forms or accepting requests to access other data (such as their location).

– Let them decide what information they give you, then give them tools to view what you’ve collected and make changes to their data access settings.

– Reassure users that their data is protected by telling them where it is, how it’s stored, and how long you intend to store it. If you share data with third-parties, disclose this as well.

When things change, tell folks
When you change your policies, be sure to post a prominent alert that tells users where they can read the latest updates.

–  Include an explanation of policy changes at the top of your policy page so people don’t have to guess what’s different.

– Date your policy pages so users can tell when they were originally written and most recently updated.

Follow the leaders
Take a fine print hint from some of the companies and organizations that are already doing it well.

Apple’s website has a huge amount of policies, but they do a good job using subheads to make everything easier to peruse.

– The Children’s Commissioner for England advocates for children. To that end, they’ve created child-friendly policy examples to help guide online companies.

Tumblr uses callout summaries in certain sections that turn the legal mumbo jumbo into language that just about anyone can understand.

– Photo-sharing service 500px puts the fine print on the left, but includes friendlier, readable text on the right.

While policies are never going to be exciting, they can be more engaging and easily absorbed so users know what you intend to do with their data. Start empowering your users by putting your UX, design, copy, and legal teams in a room. Together, they can figure out how to develop fine print that’s good for your business and your users. Doing that may not mean everyone is going to read your policies, but it may mean that those users who do will gain enough trust in your brand to stick with you over time.


ABOUT James Scott

For more than 20 years, James has helped global brands get results with award-winning copy. As a writer and creative lead, he’s worked with clients in a broad range of industries, from technology and pharma to retail and luxury services. Though he's also an attorney, James realized early in his legal career that he preferred crafting websites and ads far more than writing legal complaints and briefs. When he’s not developing blog posts, editorial content, or ad slogans, he spends his time writing short stories and perfecting his voiceover talent.