Doing business online – keeping it legal
For the most part, it will be form and functionality that are foremost in the mind of most website operators because, in this day and age, website users are discerning and keeping their attention is key. However, a preoccupation with keeping a visitor on a website by virtue of a dynamic ‘look and feel’ must be tempered with a degree of legal substance.
When providing a growing portal to traffic, transactions and data collection and transfers, a website operator must recognise the responsibilities it has to protect the interests of its visitors, customers and users. A failure to feature certain fundamental information on a website could bring possible action by consumer protection bodies or customers and potentially cause considerable damage to reputation.
It is essential for businesses to comply with legislation and regulations requiring the display of certain information on websites.
Whatever the purpose a website may serve, there is certain core information its operator must disclose, including amongst other things:
- its name
- its geographical address
- contact details including an e-mail address
- details of non-electronic contact methods
If a website collects and uses personal information (as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998) it must provide the person with appropriate information on what data is to be collected and how it is to be used. The following details are required to be given prior to data collection:
- the identity of the business
- what data is to be collected
- the use(s) for which the data is to be collected
Need to know?
The type of information required varies in accordance with, amongst, the nature and structure of a website operator’s business; how the website is used; and who the customers are, for example:
- Limited Companies must disclose the company’s registered name; the part of the UK in which the company is registered and the company’s registered address.
- Regulated professions must disclose details of the professional body with which it is registered and a reference to the professional rules which apply
- Where contracts are being concluded a site requires a description of the various steps to be followed; confirmation of filing and access provisions (if applicable), instructions to identify and correct orders before placing them; and the languages available in completing the contract
- Consumer contracts must additionally disclose: a description of the goods or services being sold, price(s) payable, delivery arrangements, and details of cancellation and “cooling off provisions”
Notable other disclosures must be made, for example:
- where a business is subject to an authorisation scheme, it must give details of the relevant supervisory authority
- where a business is subject to VAT, it must disclose its VAT number
MacRoberts offer a range of advice in relation to website operation and other intellectual property, technology and communications issues.