Privacy Policy 101: What Every Website Owner Should Know

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Privacy Policy 101: What Every Website Owner Should KnowHere are Internet Lawyer Mike Young’s answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about website privacy policy requirements. If you own a website, this is vital information for protecting yourself from lawsuits and government investigations.

General Information About Website Privacy Policies

Q: What is a website privacy policy?

A: It’s the legal document that describes the website owner’s policy with respect to the privacy rights of site visitors.

These rights may be multi-tiered.

For example, a website visitor may have different rights and responsibilities than a paying customer with access to a restricted membership area.

Related Article: 5 Warning Signs You’re Using The Wrong Website Legal Documents

In addition to the legal aspects, a good privacy policy builds trust between the site owner and visitors.

On the other hand, the lack of a policy (or a poorly drafted one) creates suspicion the website owner is dishonest or an amateur treating the site like a hobby.

5 Warning Signs You’re Using The Wrong Website Legal DocumentsQ: Are privacy policies required?

A: Although not all jurisdictions require websites to have privacy policies, some countries and states do.

The problem with this is that most sites do not restrict access by geographic location. This means that if you’ve got a site with visitors from another state that requires sites have privacy policies, you have potential liability issues even if the location(s) where your site is based and hosted do not have such requirements.

Even if you win, it’s costly to defend against a lawsuit by a state’s attorney general or a consumer protection lawyer who attempts to get a class action certified again you as site owner for violating privacy laws you may not have even known existed.

Q: Can I save money by writing my own policy from scratch?

A: Probably not. Imagine you broke your arm with a compact fracture. The bone has pierced the skin.

Would you try to stop the bleeding, stitch up the wound, and set the bone at home with a do-it-yourself cast to save a trip to the emergency room? Chances are you’d end up spending a fortune later in medical bills trying to save the arm from amputation.

The same principle applies to legal issues like online privacy rights. It’s penny-wise and pound foolish to cut corners here pretending to be an experienced Internet business lawyer…

Google Privacy Policy, the FTC, and Your Rights

By | Business Legal Alerts, Federal Trade Commission, Privacy, Social Media, Social Networking | No Comments

According to the WaPo’s Craig Timberg (“Google facing FTC scrutiny over privacy — yet again”), Google has been accused in a consumer advocate complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of engaging in deceptive trade practices by changing its privacy policy earlier this year to permit merging user profile data collected across the company’s various platforms.

Whether or not there is anything wrong with the Google privacy policy change remains to be seen. The FTC may even dismiss the claim on the merits.

What is clear is that the general rule of Internet free services applies. If you’re not paying for the service, you’re the product. It’s a Faustian bargain you enter into willingly with every online service that you use (from Facebook to Gmail).

Rule of Internet Free Services: You trade information about yourself and others in exchange for the service provider delivering what you want.

And if you don’t want to trade that information to be used for targeted advertising and other purposes, don’t use the “free” service. It’s really that simple.

5 Things You Should Review For 2017 With Your Business Lawyer Now

By | Business Contracts, Business Lawyer, eCommerce and Technology, Federal Trade Commission, Internet Lawyer | No Comments

business lawyer reviewTo make sure your company is heading into the new year with minimal legal headaches, it’s time for an annual checkup with your business lawyer. If you hate lawsuits and government investigations, here are five things you should cover during your consultation.

1. Changes in Business Ownership.

It’s important to verify who owns equity in your company and decide if changes in ownership need to be made for tax or other purposes.

Frequently, a key player joins or leave a business but the legal paperwork gets overlooked to reflect changes in ownership. In addition, the marriage or divorce of an equity owner may result changes in ownership.

As time passes, it may also make sense to plan to transfer some or all of your equity to your children as they assume responsibilities at your company.

These are just a few scenarios. The important thing is to recognize that ownership frequently changes hands in a company and you want to do it correctly to ensure that the business is protected and taxes are minimized.

2. Entity Status.

If you’re operating your business as a sole proprietorship or a general partnership, it’s probably time to discuss with your business lawyer the advantages of converting your company into either a corporation or a limited liability company.

Your legal counsel can explain the pros and cons of each type of legal entity so that you can make an informed decision as to the best path for protecting yourself as the company grows during the coming year and beyond.

3. Existing Contracts.

Have your business lawyer review your existing contracts to ensure you’re protected and to spot potential legal dangers that can be prevented by taking action now rather than procrastinating.

Sometimes this may mean amending an existing agreement, replacing it with a new agreement that better reflects the deal between the parties, or simply taking certain steps (e.g. giving required advance written notice) to extend or terminate a contract.

4. New Agreements.

During your consultation with your business attorney, be sure to discuss new relationships with employees, independent contractors, suppliers, and joint venture partners.

It’s likely you’ll have a few of those relationships that you’ll need to paper over with legal agreements to ensure that you’re adequately protected in case things go wrong, to reduce the risk of misunderstandings with the other parties, and to avoid lawsuits in general.

5. Business Lawyer Review of Website Compliance.

Because the laws and regulations governing ecommerce are constantly changing, make sure your attorney reviews your website for compliance issues. According to Internet Business Lawyer Mike Young, it may just involve a simple update to your site’s privacy policy and other legal docs.

Occasionally, you may also need to tweak some of the language on your site to avoid getting in trouble with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or other government regulatory agency.

Note that this list of five issues is not all-inclusive. However, it does cover the most common legal problems that you’ll want to get fixed during an annual checkup with your business lawyer.

2017 Ecommerce Predictions: How President Trump Will Affect Your Business

By | eCommerce and Technology, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, International Trade, Internet Business Lawyer, Internet Lawyer, Internet Sales Tax, Net Neutrality | No Comments

2017 ecommerce predictionsBased on Donald Trump’s background, platform, words, and actions, Internet Lawyer Mike Young makes seven 2017 ecommerce predictions because Trump defeated Hillary Clinton’s quest to carry on as President Barack Obama’s de facto third term.

1. The FCC Gets Hammered.

The recent attempts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has spent recent years trying to control and regulation Internet activities as a “utility” (like your electric company) instead of an “information service” that has a lot less rules to follow.

How does that change things? You can say adios to the FCC’s enforcement of “Net Neutrality.”

This means Internet content providers that suck up a lot of bandwidth will get eventually get charged more by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) than those who use less bandwidth. And those costs will get passed down. For example, if Netflix is streaming movies to a home where three people are watching different shows and movies eight hours every night, both Netflix and the customer are likely to pay more.

2. Government Contracts will be Reallocated to Smaller Competitors.

With the notable exception of Peter Thiel, from Seattle to Silicon Valley, tech giants (e.g. Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter) were heavily invested in defeating Donald Trump and electing Hillary as President. In fact, it appears that GrubHub is firing employees post-election who supported Trump (so much for free speech).

Aside from being on the Left Coast where it’s cool to be “progressive” and anti-Republican, there’s a monetary motive for the big tech companies supporting Obama and Hillary. To be profitable, many of these companies rely upon federal, state, and local government contracts.

You can expect that, to the extent feasible, there will be a shift in federal government monies away from those companies that dissed Trump in favor of smaller competitors who can deliver.

3. There Will be More Internet Sales Taxes.

Like Hillary Clinton, President-elect Trump came out in favor of Internet sales taxes at the state and local (county/parish and municipal) levels. It appears that his primary reason for doing so is the personal hostility between Trump and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos’ Washington Post ran hit piece after hit piece against Trump as news and editorials trying to get Hillary elected.

Unfortunately, Internet sales tax collection will punish small companies that sell online (not Amazon).

Why?

Amazon recognized a few years ago that sales taxes are ecommerce were inevitable so the company shifted its strategy. Instead of denying that warehouses constituted a presence in a state for doing business subject to sales tax, Amazon agreed with state comptrollers and started building/leasing warehouses across the country and collecting sales taxes on purchases made on its websites.

This has spurred growth of the company, including development of brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstores and grocery stores.

Here’s an important point to understand: Amazon has morphed into a technology and logistics company from its inception as an online bookstore.

They developed software to collect sales tax. In other words, they’ll profit from smaller companies paying to license their software for collecting and remitting the taxes to each state, county, and city where a purchase is made rather than be hurt by such taxes.

4. The FTC Will Focus On Tech Antitrust Violations

As his remarks about Amazon have suggested, President-elect Trump believes that some big tech companies are violating antitrust laws through anti-competitive behaviors. You can expect the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to shift some resources to focus on ecommerce giants to determine whether or not antitrust laws have been broken.

If you work for a large tech company, this obviously isn’t a good thing. However, if you’re an entrepreneur who believes the playing field is unfair because the big companies have stacked the deck with crony capitalism and imposition of onerous regulations the past eight years by Obama bureaucrats, then a breakup of these larger companies may benefit you as you attempt to grow your business online.

Note that the antitrust issue extends beyond a personal grudge match with Amazon. For example, companies like Microsoft and Alphabet Inc. may find themselves spinning off their respective search engines (Bing and Google) if the FTC comes after them.

In historical terms, this type of antitrust action would be similar to the breakup of AT&T’s phone monopoly into the Baby Bells. To avoid a similar fate, Microsoft actually invested in Apple during the 1990s to prop up the company so there was competition.

As an aside, if it looks like the Trump’s FTC is on board with applying antitrust laws to tech giants, you can expect such enforcement to further encourage European Union antitrust enforcement along the same lines.

5. More Snowflakes Will Get Their Feelings Hurt

Encouraged by President Obama, social media icons (e.g. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) have supported politically correct censorship on their platforms on the basis of protecting individuals from “bullying” and “offensive” content.

Needless to say, there has been an inherent left-wing bias built into what constitutes an offense against their speech codes. For example, threats to kill Trump have been routinely ignored while a liberal snowflake with hurt feelings can get someone (e.g. Milo Yiannopoulos) suspended or banned regardless of the accuracy of what had been posted by the offending user (e.g. denying that gender reassignment biologically occurs by genital mutilation surgery).

Perhaps the most important of the 2017 ecommerce predictions for free speech and individual rights, you can expect a Trump administration to disfavor rather than encourage online censorship. State bullying, harassment, and stalking laws will continue to be enforced against actual criminals.

6. International Governance and Segmentation.

Under the Obama Administration, international control of the Internet has been in the process with the goal of making all countries equal players. Because Trump was elected, the ecommerce regulatory obstacles of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are now dead.

However, under the auspices of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), international bureaucrats and techies will run the Web’s domain name system (DNS). It remains to be seen whether or not a Trump Administration will be able to reverse this handover of U.S. assets to ICANN.

Because of antitrust and other legal liability issues, it’s probable that ICANN will morph or be absorbed into an international organization like the United Nations (UN) to prevent lawsuits that destroy it.

Regardless, there’s a trend consistent with Trump’s trade policies for nationalism and segmentation of commerce both offline and online.

You can expect that trend to continue with additional censorship within authoritarian regimes and parallel development of a MultiNet, a system by which national and regional Internets interact with each other but the respective rights and restrictions vary within each area and there is an ability and willingness of each government to routinely partially or completely firewall off its Net from other parts of the online world on censorship and national security grounds.

7. Goodbye to Government Green Support.

For the last of the 2017 ecommerce predictions, Internet Lawyer Mike Young notes that President-elect Trump is not a fan of environmental fads and has appointed a skeptic of human-induced climate change to handle the transition matters pertaining to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Environmental protection resources and government contracts related to energy will be shifted. Instead of subsidizing solar panels, wind farms, and electric cars, expect the federal government to focus on clean coal technologies, oil and natural gas development (including fracking), and nuclear energy.

Although there will still be ecommerce opportunities for so-called “green” alternative activities, companies should not expect the continuation of federal government subsidies for those activities.

Disclaimer for 2017 eCommerce Predictions

Disclaimer: This article was written on November 11, 2016. This means that 2017 ecommerce predictions may not be 100% accurate because of national and global events that will occur after publication.

Stolen Valor Marketing: Targeting Military Veterans

By | Federal Trade Commission, Hall of Shame, Internet Lawyer, Internet Marketing, Marketing | No Comments
audio murphy and stolen valor marketing

Public domain photo of World War II Veteran Audie Murphy used to market moving company services to veterans

There’s a company called “Moving Masters” that appears to be promoting itself online by stolen valor marketing, that is, hijacking the heroism of America’s war heroes to sell relocation services to veterans and senior citizens.

The company website claims that it is “an American owned and operated moving company whose immediate and extended family members were active World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.”

Audie Murphy and Stolen Valor Marketing

The moving company uses in social media a public domain photo of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy as well as a bio for the deceased World War II hero that the company claims comes from the 59 Veterans Project.*

moving masters tweet

Tweet by Moving Masters promoting services using Audie Murphy

moving masters facebook post

Facebook post by moving company using Audie Murphy in its marketing

moving masters google plus

Google+ post that also promotes the moving company using Audie Murphy

Online research reveals no connection whatsoever between Audie Murphy and the company. There is no evidence to show either Murphy’s estate or family endorsed the use of his military accomplishments to sell moving services by this company.

So why is the company using Murphy to sell its services? Because Murphy’s heroism appeals to veterans and senior citizens.

Stolen Valor Marketing Using the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

vietnam veterans memorial wall

Should war memorials be used in marketing products and services?

Appealing to the same demographics, the company website’s Seniors & Veterans page shows an uncaptioned photo of what appears to be a veteran touching a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There is no indication this man has endorsed the moving services or why a memorial for American military killed in action during the Vietnam War would be relevant to this moving company.

Veterans Marketing Offer

On multiple social media sites (Google+, Facebook, etc.), the company claims “But we have to admit we value our seniors and veterans most of all, perhaps. Just visit our Seniors & Veterans page on our website and you’ll see what we mean.” [emphasis added]

Perhaps?

The moving company’s website contains the following offer to veterans.

veterans marketing offer

Is offering the same deal to veterans as to others “special?”

This is the exact same rebate offered to “seniors relocating out of New York” and “local entire house relocations.” According to the site, the offers cannot be combined.

In short, veterans might save “up to 10%” after being inspired to purchase by photos of Audie Murphy and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

Is Stolen Valor Marketing Legal?

When a person engages in stolen valor by lying about personal military service or wearing unearned medals, the courts have generally upheld the “right” to do so as protected free speech under the First Amendment. You can learn more about this problem at StolenValor.com.

What about stolen valor marketing? Is it legal?

That depends. Commercial speech doesn’t enjoy the same legal protections as pretending you’re a retired Navy SEAL at the local VFW.**

If investigated by the government (e.g. the Federal Trade Commission or a state Attorney General’s consumer protection division), the key issue would be whether the marketing was fraudulent or deceptive.

Even if stolen valor marketing is legal (like flag burning), just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

* This article does not analyze the 59 Veterans Project, its legitimacy, or any affiliation between the project and the moving company.

59-veterans-project

Tweet by moving company promoting 59 Veterans Project

** Even if legal to do so, pretending to be a former Navy SEAL is a good way to get your ass kicked.

*** No opinion is provided as to the quality or pricing of the moving company’s services. The purpose of this article is solely to discuss stolen valor marketing practices. Perform due diligence before purchasing from any vendor of products or services.