In the first post of the New Year, we talked about legal considerations for naming your business. (See that post here.) In this post, I want to talk to you about your website. One of the most gratifying parts of starting a new business today is completing your website. It takes so much time, effort, planning, patience, and money that when you are finally done you want to shout for joy.
Because there are so many moving parts in a website project, it is easy to forget about the legal aspects of your online presence. However, maintaining compliance online is just as important as following the law in your brick and mortar establishment.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the primary federal regulatory agency when it comes to websites. The agency’s mission is to protect consumers and promote competition. The FTC also guides businesses in maintaining compliance with applicable laws and regulations. (Please visit www.ftc.gov to learn more.) So when you develop your website, you want to consider the following to ensure you are meeting FTC and applicable legal standards:
Terms and Conditions
Terms and Conditions govern the relationship between the website owner and end user. It is an online agreement that lets everyone know who owns what, who is liable for what, and your expectations of the end users of your site. Terms and Conditions are important because they usually are the only agreement in place between the end user and the website owner. If you want to block people from posting unsavory comments on your blog, it’s best to let them know your definition of unsavory via your terms and conditions.
Just like the ads on television, website owners are prohibited from using unfair or deceptive advertising techniques online. Therefore, any online offers, sales pages, or statements that you make on your site must be truthful and cannot mislead potential buyers. So for instance, if you advertise that your magic pill leads to 10 pounds of weight loss overnight, the magic pill better deliver.
To avoid any potential issues with this, you want to add appropriate disclaimers if you cannot guarantee results through the use of your product or service. You also want to avoid using phrases like, “Tests show that product A is better than product b” unless you’ve actually performed those tests or had someone perform those tests for you and have results to back up those claims.
If you intend to collect email address on your site and then use those emails to market your product or service to your list, you must be sure to comply with the CAN-SPAM ACT (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act). The CAN-SPAM Act sets the rules for commercial email marketing and allows for a penalty of up to $16,000 per email for everyone message that violates its provisions. That’s a hefty fine, so strict compliance is essential. Fortunately, many of the email services like MailChimp and Aweber have CAN-SPAM compliance built right. Thank goodness. However, as a business owner, it is important to know that the burden falls on you to make sure your email marketing follows the law.
Got any questions regarding your website’s legal compliance? Let me know in the comments below.