Staying safe on the Internet can mean a variety of things. It can mean using the safest web browser you can find, blocking spam pop ups, using secure passwords, and only (hopefully) visiting safe websites. But how do you know that a website is safe, that it won’t steal or share your personal information, it won’t show you inappropriate content or it is regulated for the correct age of user before allowing access before actually checking it out? And what qualifies a website as “safe”? Luckily there are laws, rules and regulations in place that help to protect us during the time we spend online. It is important for business owners to be aware of the steps they need to have in place to protect their website visitors before diving into creating a website. It can be a tricky path to follow, but our team is always on top of ever-changing rules. Let’s take a look at some laws to be familiar with and a few ways you can help to protect your web visitors. And just FYI – we aren’t lawyers, but we have lawyers on staff who can certainly help you. We consult with them when building websites to make sure we cross all of the t’s and dot all of those i’s.
Internet privacy is concerned primarily with how personal information is exposed over the Internet, through tracking, data collection, data sharing, and cybersecurity threats. Once you step “foot” on a website, your path is likely being tracked constantly. When you enter credit card information, you hope that the website is secure and your data won’t be shared with anyone. But how can you be sure?
There is no 100% guarantee that your information is secure on the Internet. Just think about all of the big name companies and corporations that have been hacked lately. According to ThomsonReuters.com, there is no single law regulating online privacy. Instead, a patchwork of federal and state laws apply. Some key federal laws affecting online privacy include:
- The Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC)
- Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) 
- Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA) 
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) 
- Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM Act) 
- Financial Services Modernization Act (GLBA) 
- Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) 
It can seem like a spider web of weaved rules throughout everything on the Internet, but it is all done with best intentions in mind, at least we’d like to believe so. It keeps becoming more and more difficult to protect one’s personal information as technology advances and takes over more things in our lives. If there is one thing that you can control, it is how you are followed on the Internet.
Cookies & Web Tracking
Unfortunately, we are not talking about Hansel and Gretel’s cookies and tracking them with their crumbs. And trust us – we loooove real cookies. But Internet cookies are the trail you lead when visiting websites. They are files downloaded to your browser by a website that you visited that contain unique identifiable information. Sometimes cookies are useful. Some examples from contractscounsel.com of how people find cookies to be useful are:
- Remembering items in a digital shopping cart
- Saving customer language preferences
- Using analytics to track internet market data
- Retargeting ads to social media visitors
- Offering CMS logins or blog commenting capabilities
- Installing tracking pixels from third-party services
And sometimes cookies are just creepy (oatmeal raisin cookies – yuck!). If you do not want the cookie trail to follow you, you can set your browser to delete cookies every time you finish on a webpage or do not allow cookies on your browser at all. Depending on where you are in the world, you may also have to accept cookies when going to a website. That decision is left up to you.
An even scarier trackable trail is IP addresses. This can be a hard topic to comprehend, but the gist of it is that hackers can trace IP addresses back to individuals. IP addresses are traceable if not protected. And did you know there is a whole database containing all web addresses on the Internet? Did you know that ownership information is easily accessible there?
What Does This Mean for Businesses?
Protecting website visitors doesn’t just mean for websites that sell products or services. The database mentioned previously that contains web addresses is called WHOIS and you can request a private listing from the database manager. Think of it as having an unlisted phone number in the White Pages. This can help protect your website and visitors from being tracked.
As for businesses that use their website as an e-commerce site, there are great ways to help protect your site and customers from hackers and fraud.
Start by choosing an e-commerce platform that is well known and trusted. Not sure even where to start when researching this? We can most certainly help! It is also useful to partner with a trusted web team so you can work together to ensure your own and user data is safe and secure. Another thing to consider is to always keep your system, software and whatever platforms you decide to use up to date. When there are updates, do them. Typically a hacker’s way in is through glitches and bugs in a system, so when one is found, it is vital that it is repaired and an update is made to protect your system.
And finally, it is important to educate yourself and any staff on online theft, fraud, hacking and security measures that your company has in place to thwart any of this. Keep communications open and honest about this topic. Random tests and continuing education are important not only from a business perspective but also from a personal standpoint. Things change so rapidly in the online world that it is imperative to stay on top of the latest and greatest for security and safety.