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Privacy Policy vs Terms and Conditions: What The Heck Is The Difference?

When it comes to your website, do you know the difference between a privacy policy and terms of use? And what about a disclaimer?

If you’re not exactly sure what the difference is… you’re not alone. It’s common for website owners to confuse these important website legal policies. 

But fear not! In this post, we’ll help you understand the difference and show you how to get them in place for your website lickety-split. 

Let’s dive in! 

What is a privacy policy?

Young woman with glasses with expression that she is thinking. Has pencil on her chin as she thinks.

A privacy policy is a legal document that sets out what information you collect from website visitors, how you collect that information, why you collect that information, how you use that information, who you share that information with, and what visitors can do to limit your use or collection of that information. 

Put simply, your privacy policy helps your website visitors understand what the heck is going on with their data and information when they visit your website. 

Although it is a legal policy, it’s not written with legalese or really any legal lingo. That’s because the whole point is to be transparent and to make it easy for your website visitors to understand your data practices. 

While much of what I talk about when it comes to protecting your online business is a best practice, your privacy policy is different. It is the ONE thing you are legally required to get in place. There are multiple laws that require a website privacy policy if you are collecting any personal information from website visitors. 

If you want to take a deeper dive into privacy policies, check out this earlier post, Privacy Policy 101: The Ultimate Guide You Need To Protect Your Website.

What are terms of use (aka terms and conditions)?

Your website terms of use (sometimes called your terms and conditions) outlines the basic agreement between you and your website visitors. This policy addresses considerably more than privacy issues… and it will have more legal language than your privacy policy. 

Your terms of use will tend to be really freaking long. The templated version of the terms of use that’s part of my website policy pack is a 13-page Google Doc. 

Yowzers… that’s a lotta legalese. 

The reason this policy is so long is that there’s a lot of ground to cover. Here are the categories of things you should cover in your terms of use:

Acceptable Use: Your terms and conditions should include detailed descriptions of what is allowed and what is not allowed on your site. This includes setting out inappropriate behavior on the site and also setting out that you own the material and visitors are not allowed to copy it. 

Personal Responsibility: You’ll also include multiple provisions that set out that visitors must take personal responsibility for what they choose to do with the information you provide. Basically, you tell visitors they should not rely upon the information on your site and they must decide whether it’s right for them. 

Communication Policies: The terms of use should explain the avenues of communicating with you electronically (e.g., email and communication services on the site) and explain what you’ll do with the communications you receive from visitors. 

Use of Downloads & Programs: Assuming that you have resources people can download or courses people can take, you should explain what they are allowed to do with this material. Notably, you’ll provide that these materials are for their individual use and shouldn’t be copied and shared. 

Refund Policy: If you’re selling products (even digital ones) on your website, your terms of use should include your default refund (or no refund) policy. You can always change this for individual products, but set the basics. 

Cancellation Policy: If you have a subscription product (i.e., a membership), your terms of use should include a description of how people can cancel their subscription. 

Legal Boilerplate: There are a bunch of other clauses you’ll want to include in your policy that amount to standard legal language. These are meant to avoid disputes and limit your liability. 

Seeing all these clauses, you can understand why your terms of use tends to be a really long document. 

What is a website disclaimer?

Your website disclaimer should be one of your FAVORITE legal documents ever. It’s basically a “you can’t sue me because [FILL IN THE BLANK]” policy. Not sure about you… but that sounds pretty awesome to me. 

Your website disclaimer should have provisions covering the following topics:

Not Professional Advice: Regardless of whether you are a professional, your website is NOT dispensing advice. It is education and information only. Your disclaimer spells this out (and gets specific in some instances). It also makes clear that someone using your website is not in a professional-client relationship with you.  

No Guarantees: Like in your terms of use, you’ll want to clearly set out that you are not guaranteeing any results for people who use your site. In fact, you’re not even guaranteeing that the information on your site is accurate. Now, you obviously want the info to be accurate… but your lawyer friend wants you to include this disclaimer!

Testimonials & Earnings Disclaimer: You’ll generally need to include a disclaimer about any testimonials and results/earnings presented not being guaranteed. That being said, even with this disclaimer, you aren’t allowed to cherry-pick only the best testimonials if they are not representative. 

Reviews & Affiliate Links: If you review products or use affiliate links, you’ll want to disclose that in your disclaimer. You’ll also need to disclose any financial interest in the reviews themselves (and mark affiliate links as such), but you should include a general statement in your disclaimer. 

Your website disclaimer is a bit of a hybrid between your privacy policy and your terms of use… it’s partly about providing transparency about your interests and partly about reducing your legal liability. 

Do you need all three website legal policies?

Middle-aged man with both hands lifted out from body with expression is being unsure.

Yep, you do. 

You should have a privacy policy, terms of use, and disclaimer for your website. These policies serve very different purposes, which means they are written differently. 

To comply with the legal requirements, your privacy policy has to be written in plain English without legalese. There will be some technical language (e.g., cookies and pixels), but no legal language. That’s because your privacy policy is about transparency. 

Your terms of use, on the other hand, needs to be crafted with some time-tested legal language to make sure it’s enforceable and to give you maximum protection.

And your disclaimer is a whole different animal, combining disclosures about affiliate links and financial interests with legal-sounding clauses about you not being liable for certain things. 

Given the very different tone of these policies, trying to combine them into a single policy simply doesn’t work. 

Like The Offspring said… you gotta keep ’em separated. 

How do I create my privacy policy, terms of use, and disclaimer?

While you could try to craft your website legal policies all by yourself, I do not recommend it. These are NOT fun to write, and you could easily miss something pretty stinking important. 

Luckily, you can create your privacy policy absolutely free with our privacy policy generator. Just answer some questions, and our system will create your custom policy. 

You can upgrade to our Website Policy Pack, which includes the privacy policy, terms of use, and disclaimer, for just $27. It’s a no-brainer price for legal peace of mind. 

About Bobby Klinck

Harvard Lawyer and Online Entrepreneur

About Bobby Klinck