10 July 2013
Setting up a corporate website – what legal advice do you need
One key question you need to answer before starting a website is ‘what is your website going to do’?
Generally speaking, if you will be trading or interacting with users online, there are more points to consider in order to manage risk and comply with the law.
Structure: If you’re going to be transacting online, you should design your site in a way that takes account of how your users will conclude online contracts. It’s vital to ensure that you can demonstrate that your customers have agreed to your T’s & C’s. There might also be specific terms which you need to draw to your customers’ attention to, such as regarding personal data.
T’s & C’s: In deciding how to pitch your terms you should consider the value and risk profile of any transactions and whether you are dealing with businesses or consumers. If you were concluding low value consumer transactions, you might choose to have shorter, easier to digest, but less protective terms to make your offering attractive.
For a brochure site, you’d be well advised to include some terms governing the basis on which visitors are permitted to browse. If visitors will have access to content and visuals – you might want to make it clear that they are not allowed to download them. You might also want to include disclaimers to avoid any legal claim by a visitor who relied on content or advice on your website.
If users are allowed to upload content, you should put in place an acceptable use policy and consider how you will monitor content regularly.
Data: You have an obligation to look after personal data under various laws, including the Data Protection Act. You have to use data fairly; keep it secure; and not keep it for longer than you need to.
There are strict rules about transferring data to other people, particularly to foreign countries which don’t have rules as protective as in the UK, which typically means you can’t send it to the USA. Unfortunately, many big hosting companies, such as Google & Facebook, have their servers in the US. You should therefore carry out due diligence on whether your data is going to be hosted outside the EU.
Cookies: You should bear in mind the recent changes in the law regarding cookies. It is now a legal requirement to tell users if you are going to put cookies on their computer and give them the ability to opt out, easily.
Minimum requirements: Your company name and number, registered office address, contact details and your VAT number should all be clearly available on your website and are the minimum requirements imposed by law.
Returns: If you are selling online, you also need to be aware of Distance Selling rules which give the consumer the right to send goods back; your T’s & C’s need to reflect those rules.
Accessibility: Making sure your site is accessible to everybody is also important, bearing in mind the disability discrimination rules. You should ensure that your web content can be accessed by people with disabilities.
So how do you balance the need to comply, with the need to keep costs down”?
Firstly, look at the websites of larger businesses in your sector with your business model and see how they’ve done it and adjust to reflect your own practices, ethos and values. Secondly, ensure your web developers are aware of T’s & C’s, privacy policies and other content.
Finally, get a qualified lawyer to check over your website before you go live. When creating a business, a trusted commercial lawyer will be able to point you in the right direction and keep you on course.