News & Insights

Don’t forget the small print!

There were reports in the press recently about an offer of a free bottle of wine being buried in a privacy policy without being spotted for 3 months. But behind the amusing headline what does this say about legal documentation?

Tax Policy Associates added the following wording to their privacy policy in February as an experiment, to see if anyone would actually read it: “This website uses cookies so it remembers your name if you leave a comment. You can reject them if you like. We will send a bottle of good wine to the first person to read this. We don’t serve any advertising.”

The person who spotted the passage was in fact trying to write their own privacy policy and was looking for examples. Mr Neidle, who added the wording to the policy, was apparently inspired by a similar approach used by the rock band Van Halen, who would ask for bowls of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed to test whether promoters were paying attention to their various requests, which included complicated technical instructions.

It is a key requirement under the GDPR for any company (including small businesses and charities) to provide suitable privacy information to explain what personal information it collects and what it does with it. This is commonly done via a business’ website privacy policy.

The fact that the free bottle of wine went unclaimed for so long is a stark reminder that people regularly scroll past – and agree to – legal documents appearing on websites (such as  terms and conditions, privacy policies and information about website cookies) without reading them. Whilst operators of websites are required to comply with various rules, in particular consumer protection law relating to the supply of goods and services, presenting information in a way which website visitors find off-putting is not good for either the website operator or the customer.

Even if the terms appearing on your website are legally enforceable, it is usually far better if visitors to the website are provided with information which is presented in a readily accessible format. That way, your customers (whether consumers or businesses) are less likely to enter into contracts with you on terms which they may later regret, thereby reducing the chance of complaints arising, negative website reviews and adverse publicity.

In the case of businesses buying goods and services online where they don’t have the benefit of customer law protections, accepting terms and conditions without reading them is even more risky because a business customer could find itself inadvertently bound by unfavourable terms such as indemnities, exclusions or limits of liability or liquidated damages.

Whilst Tax Policy Associates’ experiment was an extreme example, it does highlight – for both website operators and those contracting with them – that care needs to be taken with website small print. Next time the terms might not be as favourable as a free bottle of wine!