By Aaron Titus
I’m an awesome programmer. The only thing keeping me from Python, PHP, or Ruby coding awesomeness is knowledgeâ€¦ and skillâ€¦ and trainingâ€¦ and, um practice. OK, I may not be a Ruby all-star, but I could be if I wanted to. Likewise, you can do anything for yourself that an attorney can do for you, including writing legal documents. Lawyers just happen to have knowledge, skill, and training. And if I wanted an iPhone app, I’d talk to a programmer. If I wanted legal documents, I’d talk to a lawyer.
In fact, lawyers are programmers. Writing legal documentsâ€”like privacy policiesâ€”is just like writing code.
Imagine that your boss tells you, “I need a widget. I’m sure other people in the open source community have done similar things. Just go grab some code and slap it together by the end of the day.â€ Of course, that’s crazy. You can’t just slap code together. In what language is the code written? Will it play well with existing code? How complete is the API? What are the requirements? What about security? What about debugging?
- Be Honest. Your mamma was right: Honesty is the best (privacy) policy.
- Don’t Over-Promise. Statements like “privacy is our top priority” may be enforced by the FTC as a privacy promise. Don’t box yourself into a corner.
- Don’t Under-Promise. Under-promising can violate regulations and more importantly, scare off customers.
- Tell the Whole Truth. Failure to talk about less-desirable privacy practices may be a misleading business practice.
- Be Complete and Conspicuous.
- Get it Right the First Time. Allowing yourself room to change will save headaches long-term, as material changes to privacy policies require additional consent.
- If you Say it, Do it. Generally no magic words are required in privacy policies. The best approach to avoid liability is to stick to your policy.
- You can later use the weight & contact information to market your next iPhone app, “Smart Dieter.”
The answers may surprise you:
- True. The FTC is always interested in your privacy policies and practices, and even passing assurances of privacy like “Privacy is our Number 1 Priority” may be enforced as a privacy promise.
Boilerplate legal documents can get people and companies in trouble. Although sometimes there are magic words from a statute or regulation that should be quoted to order to protect your rights, most boilerplate is not magicâ€”itâ€™s lazy. Lawyers do a lot of legal debugging, because improper boilerplate language can be downright harmful. Unless you do your own legal programming to meet your individual needs, you are sure to accidentally waive a right, break the law, incur the ire of the FTC, or create a contradiction and cause a “Legal 500 Error.”
A Living Document
As an executive, do these three things: