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Would your website get a clean bill of health?

09 March 2015

In this digital online age, businesses recognise the need for an engaging, content-rich website that showcases the products and services they supply, but a significant number appear to be devoting more time to the look of their site than ensuring it meets the minimum legal requirements, Andrew Brennan from commercial law firm SGH Martineau warns

Many businesses are either unaware or ignoring the laws governing websites of UK registered businesses. The site must display the registered business name, place of registration, registered number, registered office address, details of any regulator if the business undertakes regulated activities and the VAT number – not necessarily on the homepage, but easy to find. For sole traders and partnerships, the address of the principal place of business must be shown. 


Visitor data

The collection, storage and use of personal data, including the sharing, or selling of information is a growing area of concern, so it is essential businesses have the relevant policies and procedures in place. Visitors to a website must now positively consent to the use of cookies and should be told which are used, what information they gather, what’s done with it and that by continuing to use the site, the visitor consents to their use.


To help future marketing efforts, businesses often try and capture visitor's personal contact information and whilst there is no problem emailing individuals, it has to be in relation to their original enquiry or transaction and they must be given a way to unsubscribe from future communications. 


If a business wants to email general marketing information that is unrelated to an individual’s original enquiry, their express consent must be obtained. This is often done by providing tick boxes, but these must not be pre-ticked – any business that continues to use pre-ticked boxes risks enforcement action. Whilst these rules only apply currently to individuals and not corporate visitors to a website, care should still be exercised, as many corporate visitors might use personal email addresses to receive information.


All e-mail marketing must contain the identity of the sender and the recipient must be able to unsubscribe from the service and be removed from any list that holds their details. If a website visitor provides address details and a phone number, a business can market to them by telephone or post until or unless asked not to. When a business collects personal information, it becomes a data controller and must explain what information is being collected and why. The website must have a Privacy Policy that explains how information will be used and a way to contact the designated data controller, typically with an email link.


Terms & Conditions 

Terms and Conditions are not a legal requirement, but a good set will help prevent many potential problems. They can protect the business by clearly stating what activities the business undertakes and what Intellectual Property (IP) it owns on the website, whilst also warning visitors against ‘framing’ or ‘deep linking’ to the site - which might imply some professional endorsement of the site that includes the link. It’s also good to include a ‘disclaimer of liability,’ that warns visitors the information provided is accurate to the best knowledge of the site owner, but should not be taken as absolute fact.


User generated content

More site owners now allow ‘user generated content’ (UGC) on their sites, where individuals can post comments, reviews, pictures etc., but it is essential the site has an ‘acceptable use’ policy to protect against any illegal or offensive material being posted. Without this policy, it can be the site owner that faces action, not the individual responsible for the post. Ignorance of the law is no defence and non-compliance can have serious consequences. Businesses should check their sites carefully and if any doubt exists they should get a lawyer who is experienced in this dynamic area of law to check it, make sure it’s legal and ensure it stays that way.