When the internet was just getting started, my mother had just bought her first computer as a AS400 programmer and as a curious child I would eagerly peer over her shoulder studying her every move.  It wasn’t until my mother comes home from work one day to see her computer completely disassembled on the floor (I was 11 at the time) that she really flipped out about me touching her computer.  The next day, the computer was in one piece again, I had rebuilt the computer and had added a few personal touches such as jumping a few CPU circuits to juice the processing power of the new Intel chip.  She booted up that computer and nearly fell out of her chair and yelled, “What the hell! This isn’t my computer!”.  It was and I as once again allowed to tinker with her computer.

I kept that computer from my elementary years all the way through highschool and even took it with me to Boy Scout summer camp to teach the Computers merit badge when I was 16; of course my mother had upgraded since then to a really nice computer.

The point is, I got an early start on computers and the internet for my age and was a quick learner.  Back then the most you had to worry about was the Michelangelo virus or something as severe.  You didn’t have to worry about someone posting your personal data to a forum or to another company so they could send you all their marketing materials; no, I just installed a virus scanner and had a blast playing around.

Time flies by when you’re having fun, and the next thing I know, I’m the managing director of a Web Development firm telling my customers that a privacy policy (a legal page on the site that is specific to disclosing what you do with people’s data) is absolutely essential. It would seem that our society doesn’t really know how to handle this whole idea of “information freedom” without transgressing someone because not only do we have to worry about viruses these days, but you have spyware, adware, and a dozen other theft of information type programs.

As a result of this very low point in our online community with people in general not knowing how to control themselves or having a lack of empathy or for whatever reason disclosing your private information, many companies have utterly refused to do business with other companies that don’t clearly explain how customer data is handled (and with good reason, who wants to stain their company name?). So today, not only is it something that will earn you a few trust points from your readers, having a privacy policy is nearly essential to prevent from being black-listed by many companies and banks out there (yes, banks)!

There are absolutely two “legal” documents your website cannot go without:  a Privacy Policy, and a Terms of Service.  If you don’t have both of these, its time to ask how to get them because you’re likely a stone-throw away from facing the stigma of an online black list.