Rules for your Online Community

19 March 2009

This week I have been drafting a privacy policy, terms and conditions and terms of use for the Online Community, a task I have enjoyed.

There are big differences between the three documents.

A privacy policy explains to visitors how their data will be used and how secure the site is.

When drawing up the privacy policy, I referred to the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent authority created to improve access to official information and to protect personal information.

Terms and Conditions are a contract between the user and the site administration that the user agrees to abide by when he progresses beyond the landing page.

Like the privacy policy, this will always be linked on the front page of an online community.

Terms of Use cover how users use the site. These include not impersonating other users, not posting spam and not breaching copyright.

I have also been researching the laws of copyright using the Intellectual Property Office website.

So why are all these rules and regulations needed for an Online Community?

A Privacy Policy is needed to ensure that users are aware of how their data will be used, and so they will feel comfortable with visiting the site.

While the huge majority of the time users will contribute to the site in a positive way, there may be an occasion where a user does something that will offend other users or cause the online community to be brought into a legal dispute.

Spamming can also be a problem. For example, Scope web content manager Alex White has told the Media Trust that the charity’s web forum receives between fifty and sixty spam messages a day.

These issues can be avoided by a well written Terms and Conditions and Terms of Use.