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How to make sure your website is legally compliant

From accessibility to privacy, every website must ensure that it operates within the law. 

Failing to adhere to the laws that govern the internet can have severe repercussions in the form of fines—sometimes in the millions. Yikes!

How Privacy Laws Affect Your Website

Although internet privacy laws have been around since October 21, 1998 — in the form of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — the internet’s landscape has changed. New privacy laws surrounding user data began to crop up with these changes. These laws continue to shift, with new laws added frequently, making it much more difficult to keep up.

Privacy laws extend to every website that collects any form of personal information. 

Suppose your website has a form that collects identifiable information like a user’s name, address, email, or phone number. In that case, you must comply with privacy laws and ensure your website has a public policy for it. 

The owner of the website’s responsibility is to ensure that the data collected is used appropriately and that your website features a Privacy Policy. For example, a violation of the California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA) — the primary piece of privacy legislation that covers data collection in the United States — can result in a fine of $2,500 per violation!

How ADA Compliance Affects Your Website

Do people with physical or visual disabilities use your website? While you can’t know for sure, it’s a safe bet that it is. It’s more of a “when” than “if” question, so ensuring that your website complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act is a must.

Again, it falls on the website owner to ensure that their website is compliant and face the repercussions if it isn’t. These lawsuits are on the rise and can come with a hefty price tag to learn the lesson the hard way. You can be fined up to $75,000 for your first offense. 

Your Location Doesn’t Matter.

It’s not just your state’s local laws that you must comply with, but the whole world. It is the world wide web, after all

Your website needs to comply with the laws and regulations of your visitor’s location. That means that if your business is in New Hampshire and someone from California visits it, you must follow the laws of CA. The same goes for a visitor from Australia. If you’re using Google Analytics and an Australian user visits your website, you’re non-compliant

What You Can Do to Make Your Website Compliant

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the information above, don’t worry, that’s normal. The landscape is constantly changing, and compliance yesterday can mean something different tomorrow. However, you can do these three things to help protect your website, users, and business.

ADA Compliance and Accessibility

Creating an accessible website isn’t just about making sure you don’t get fined—it’s also the moral thing to do. 

ADA Compliance for websites is hazy at best. While you can read the guidelines for compliance outlined by the Web Accessibility Initiative, they can be confusing and challenging to implement with confidence—especially if you’re not an internet policy lawyer. 

Ultimately, these guidelines state that a website must be:

  • Useable and readable for all visitors, including those with visual or physical impairments.
  • Responsive and useable regardless of the user’s screen size or resolution. 
  • Able to be used by assistive technology—tools that help your visitors with disabilities use your website to the fullest extent.
  • Organized in a way that’s intuitive and easy to navigate.

Using a trusted accessibility tool like Wave can let you know what areas of your website need to be updated to meet compliance. Below is a test of Apple’s website, and, as you can see, there are certainly some aspects that need to be fixed to reduce the chance of liability. 

Wave audit of the Target website
Target has some work to do—tested using Wave

Accessibility standards and laws are constantly updated, making full compliance a bit tricky. Auditing your website and fixing the found issues is a great place to start. 

Privacy Policies

If your website has a contact form that your visitors use to reach out to you but lacks a Privacy Policy, you’re in violation. 

Your privacy policy must explain to your users the following:

  • What personal information you collect
  • How you store this information
  • What you use the information for
  • What third parties have access to their information 
  • How this information is shared with third parties
  • Links to the privacy policies to those third parties
  • How long you keep said personal information
  • How and who to contact should a user want to request their data removed

Every page of your website should contain a link to your privacy policy—usually found within the footer. 

Keep in mind that your privacy policy isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. Privacy laws are changing every day around the world. If your privacy policy isn’t consistently updated to comply with the shifting laws, it’s a matter of time before you become non-compliant again.

Cookie Consent

Cookies are tiny files containing information sent from a website to a browser stored on a user’s computer. These files help the website remember information about your previous visit and preferences and can help the website load much faster the next time you visit. 

While cookies ultimately help the end-user experience, the amount of data collected and stored has given rise to privacy laws that require each user have the ability to consent to the cookies used on your website.

Simply having a cookie notice or disclaimer that states that the website collects these cookies is no longer considered legal. 

Implementing a cookie consent and cookie policy for your users on your website is required to ensure you’re compliant. These cookie consent boxes are necessary to allow users to choose exactly what cookies they will enable the website to collect. 

It’s worth noting that having the acceptance pre-checked within these cookie consents is considered a failure to comply since the user must individually un-check them to opt out.

Accessibility Compliance and Privacy Policies are a Good Thing

If you’re considering making your website compliant, good on you! These documents and features within your website protect both you and your visitors. 

Ensuring that your website is actively trying to create an open and useable internet for everyone, regardless of disability, is ultimately the right thing. 

However, as the internet landscape continues to evolve and new laws are passed, it can seem impossible for businesses without a team of lawyers and a spitfire IT team to keep up with it all. 

I support an open, transparent, and useable internet for everyone. The websites I create are done with accessibility standards in mind, and I closely follow the rapidly changing online privacy laws. I can help you build an inclusive website and protect both you and your visitors. 

If you’re ready to build a beautiful website that’s also compliant, you can get started by contacting me

We’ll schedule a quick call to discuss your goals, how we can reach them, and see if we’re a good fit for each other.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Sebert

I’ve been building websites and creating visual marketing for my clients since 2009. My love for all things design and analytical enables me to build powerful marketing campaigns and websites that help you reach your goals.