Website Privacy Policies: How To Write A Privacy Policy For Your Website

As more and more business transactions move online, it’s becoming increasingly important for website owners to ensure that they comply with relevant privacy laws and protect their users’ personal information. The Australian Privacy Act 1988 mandates that businesses must have a privacy policy if they have a higher annual turnover than $3 million and collect personal information from Australian website visitors. This makes it necessary for most websites to have a clear and comprehensive privacy policy in place, especially in the age of internet cookies, where collecting personal information is the norm.  If you’re not familiar with internet cookies, we have an article that can help you understand their usage.

Writing a privacy policy for your website may seem daunting, but it’s crucial to establish trust and transparency with your audience. In this article, we’ll explore some of the key elements of a privacy policy and give you some tips on how to write a website privacy policy for your website effectively.

What Is A Website Privacy Policy?

A website privacy policy is a legal document that outlines how your website collects and processes the personal data of its users in plain and simple language. Privacy policies typically include information like:

  • The types of data your website gathers from users
  • What that data is used for
  • How personal data is stored
  • If any third parties have access to the data
  • If your website uses cookies

Privacy policies might also mention user rights, data security measures, and procedures for users to opt-out or request changes to their data.

Why Do You Require A Privacy Policy?

Posting a privacy policy on your website is paramount in the age of increased user vigilance around privacy, cookies and tracking. Users want assurance that their personal information is being handled responsibly by the websites they visit, and a well-written privacy policy provides this assurance. Adding a privacy policy demonstrates that you’re committed to transparency and best privacy practices by clearly outlining how you collect, use, and protect user data, providing transparency about your practices.

The Laws Surrounding Privacy Policies And Data Protection 

There are strict laws in most countries surrounding how websites collect information from users and protect user privacy, and privacy policies are required by law in most cases. The Office of The Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) regulates the handling of personal information and is the most authoritative source of information on data privacy laws in Australia. It provides guidance on how to stay compliant with the latest regulations. If you’re ever unsure about privacy laws regarding your website, checking the OAIC website and following their guidance is the best way to ensure you’re in line with regulations. 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a set of data protection regulations established by the European Union, and Australian websites don’t have to worry about being GDPR compliant. However, if your website targets a global audience or processes any kind of data from users in the EU, you need to comply with these regulations as well as the Australian ones.

What Is Your Privacy Policy Legally Required To Say?

According to the OAIC, your privacy policy must include the following clauses and statements:

  • Your business name and contact details
  • What kind of personal information you collect and share
  • How you store the information collected
  • Why you collect that information
  • How you keep personal information secure
  • If you disclose personal information to third parties
  • Who can access and use personal information
  • How users can lodge a privacy complaint 

Personal data is anything that could make a user identifiable, like their name, home or email address, bank details, medical records, IP address or any other personally identifiable information. 

At a minimum, ensuring you include the above specific requirements on your privacy policy page is the best way to ensure you’re covering all your bases. Privacy policies on websites are actively monitored by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), so getting it right is important!

How to Know If Your Website Will Need A Privacy Policy

Even if your business has a turnover of less than $3 million a year, you might still be required to have a website privacy policy if your business:

  • Is a private sector health service provider, including complementary therapists, gyms, weight loss clinics, child care centres
  • Sells or purchases personal information
  • Are a contractor working under contract with the government
  • Is a credit provider or credit reporting body
  • Or is a residential tenancy database operator

If your business is covered by the Privacy Act and the Australian Privacy Principles and you don’t comply, you can face investigation and heavy fines. Even if you’re not covered under the 1988 Act, having an online privacy statement and policy is still heavily recommended to ease users’ privacy concerns!

Using a Website Privacy Policy Template

There are lots of free website privacy policy templates available online. Writing a privacy policy from scratch can be hard, especially if you have no previous experience writing legal documents, and these free templates can serve as a practical starting point. Here are the benefits of using a premade template to draft your privacy policy:

  • Time and resource efficiency: Templates can save time and resources by providing a pre-structured framework, reducing the amount of effort and time you spend creating a privacy policy from scratch.
  • Comprehensive starting point: Many templates are designed to cover a wide range of data collection and usage clauses, making it easier to cover all your bases.
  • Legal Compliance: Choosing a template from a reputable legal website in Australia will help you stay in line with the relevant legal standards.

The Limitations Of Privacy Policy Templates

Templates are great, but putting a privacy policy on your website isn’t as simple as just downloading a template online and putting it in your footer straightaway. To be fully compliant, your privacy policy needs to be relevant and tailored to your business and specific data practices. No two websites are the same, so it’s unlikely a generic template without any customisation will accurately reflect your data usage.

It’s also important to note that templates might not adapt well to evolving privacy laws or industry-specific changes, so you have no way of knowing they’re up to standard unless you check the regulations yourself. 

8 Tips For Writing An Effective Website Privacy Policy

Now that you’re caught up on Australian privacy regulations, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how to write your privacy policy. Here are some of the most necessary things to include and steps to follow when writing a privacy policy yourself or customising a template:

1. Audit Your Data Practices

Before you write your privacy policy, take some time to do a thorough audit of your data practices, including how you collect, store and use that data. Understanding your own data practices inside and out will help you explain to your users how to keep their sensitive information safe and give them peace of mind.

2. Outline The Key Information 

It’s important to start your privacy policy with a crystal clear overview of what kind of information you’re collecting from your users. This may include personal details, contact information, and browsing behaviour. You should also tell users why you’re collecting each data type and how long you store it.

3. Explain Your Data Collection Methods

You should plainly explain the methods you use to collect data, like through cookie use on your website, forms that collect information, analytics tools like Google Analytics, and third-party integration.

4. Be Transparent About The Use Of Personal Data

You need to be transparent with your users about how you use their personal data and be honest about whether it’s used for marketing, personalisation, or to track your website visitors. 

5. Address Data Security 

One of the biggest user privacy concerns is data breaches and other security issues. Your privacy policy should outline any security measures you have in place to keep their personal information secure, like encryption, secure storage practices, and access controls. This allows users to make informed decisions about the use of your website. 

6. Explain User Rights

You should inform users about their privacy rights, such as their right to access, correct, or delete their personal information. You also need to explain the process for users to exercise these rights in as simple terms as possible.

7. Include Contact Information

You need to include any relevant contact details so users can contact you if they have any questions about your privacy policy notice, and make sure you keep this information up to date.

8. Make Sure To Include An Opt-Out Option

You should allow users to opt out of data collection used for marketing purposes or user tracking. You can do this by allowing granular cookie usage, where users can choose to accept certain types of cookies and not others. Your privacy policy needs to clearly explain how users can opt-out and unsubscribe at any time.

9. Make Sure Users Can Find Your Privacy Policy Easily

Your website design should allow for easy and clear access to your privacy notice. Users need to be able to find the link to your privacy policy with ease. Privacy policies are often linked to in the footer, and this is standard practice. However, while linking to your privacy policy in the footer is one thing, it’s often a good idea to make your policy more prominent when it’s most relevant, like at user registration and contact pages, as well as any data collection points like forms.

Putting your privacy policy in an easily accessible spot isn’t just for the sake of user experience – it’s a requirement for both local and international laws like the Privacy Act and GDPR.

If You’re Unsure, Seek Legal Advice

If you choose to write your own privacy policy and run into any uncertainty, you should play it on the safe side and seek legal advice from a law firm or other legal services that specialise in privacy regulations. Consulting with legal professionals ensures that your privacy policy accurately reflects your business practices, complies with relevant laws, and mitigates potential risks. Legal guidance can also provide clarity on industry-specific considerations, emerging technologies, and any unique aspects of your business that need specialised attention. 

Should I Include Terms And Conditions And Terms Of Use On My Website As Well?

Terms and Conditions, privacy policies, and terms of use can often get confused. However, they’re three distinct legal documents with some key differences. For one, only privacy policies are legally mandated. Here’s what the terms mean:

  • Terms of Use is an agreement between a service provider and the person who wants to use the service. They often cover things like user behaviour, intellectual property rights, and disclaimers. Agreements to terms of use are often implicit, and you’ll often see the phrase ‘By use of this website, you agree to be bound by these Terms of Use’. 
  • Terms and Conditions is a broader term that can include both terms of use and any other contractual provisions. Terms and conditions might also include details about payment terms, refund policies, dispute resolution mechanisms, and any other contractual obligations.

While these two documents aren’t necessarily a legal requirement like privacy policies, they’re often a good idea to have on your website if you’re providing a service or selling goods. They can protect you from any liability and lead to easier dispute resolution. 

Increasing User Trust

Crafting a clear and effective privacy policy is not only a legal requirement but a crucial step in building trust and transparency with your audience. As users become more vigilant about their privacy, a well-written privacy policy can assure them that you handle their information responsibly. We hope these tips provided some clarity around privacy policies so you can get a head start!

Remember, if you’re unsure about anything while writing your privacy policy, seeking legal advice might be a prudent idea. A legal professional can help ensure your privacy policy aligns with regulations and best practices.

  • Juliette Owen-Jones
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