Internet Data Privacy Laws for Website Owners
You’re probably tired of having to “Agree to Terms” to check out websites. Are you confused by the sudden increase of these kinds of popups on websites you’ve been visiting for years? New legislation is the reason for these boxes and notices.
Data privacy and security have become a priority for millions around the world. Accordingly, people are seeing the value inherent in their personal data. Because of this, users want greater control over where their data goes and who is handling it. This concern is not a conflated sense of paranoia, though. At least 16 high-profile data breaches were announced between January 2017 and April 2018 in the United States alone. The world is growing ever more connected through exchanged personal data. Because of this, parliaments and senates worldwide are considering ways to keep their citizens safe.
European Privacy Regulations: GDPR
Rewind to May of this year. Your email inbox was full of emails from retailers and media agencies communicating their compliance with the EU’s GDPR (General Data Privacy Rule). “That only applies to Europeans”, you probably thought. “Why does this matter to me?” The GDPR organizes and expands upon several prior data laws covering EU residents and companies. However, the boundaries of enforcement extend to all corners of the globe. Any firm or service that collects or handles the personal data of EU citizens is obliged to comply with this new standard, regardless of geographic boundary.
First, companies must seek the “freely given consent” before collecting data. Secondly, it’s crucial to clearly answer the questions of “How”, “Where”, and “Why” regarding data usage. With this in mind, it’s essential for companies to assess the ways they store, handle and process data to ensure responsible compliance. Services can’t follow in the footsteps of Equifax or Yahoo, who waited months to disclose news of massive intrusions. Specifically, GDPR requires notification following a breach within 72 hours from detection. Failing to abide these standards could result in massive penalties. Organizations at fault could even face private lawsuits brought by affected users in courts unsympathetic to risky data practices.
Data Protections – Coming to a State Near You
Let’s shift focus toward more familiar shores. As of July 2018, ten states are actively pursuing internet privacy regulations. Eleven further states have enacted or expanded legislation covering the data privacy rights of individuals. In particular, California stood out from the crowd of privacy movement states when it rolled out the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, or CaCPA. Similar in nature to GDPR, this new standard enters enforcement effective January 1, 2020.
“[The CaCP is]…a step forward, and it should be appreciated as a step forward when it’s been a long time since there were any steps.” – Dr. Aleecia McDonald, Professor of Public Policy and Internet Privacy at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, as quoted in The New York Times.
This push for data privacy is likely to move swiftly. Americans are increasingly appreciating the real-dollar value of their data and demanding companies – retailers, financial establishments and tech firms, especially – take steps to protect sensitive information. There is even a push to bring the “Internet of Things” under privacy rules. Such coverage would provide much needed protection against improper access or usage of the conversations you have within range of Alexa or other smart devices.
Your Business Liability
Companies hoping to avoid or ignore the need to revise data management and processing practices may be doing so at great risk. As a matter of fact, some website hosting companies are already threatening to remove non-compliant websites. No company is immune from this, either – Google and Facebook are facing $8.8 billion lawsuits for ignoring GDPR legislation. Experts nationwide anticipate that a wave of similar rules will soon arrive in the United States. In any case, if your business has a website and you store client information of any sort, you should give your liability and compliance priority.
Making your website GDPR compliant is fairly simple, though. A phone call or email to your website development company can get the ball rolling down the road of website data compliance, safeguarding your customers and your business.
Awareness and action are essential, but the steps you can take now are simple:
- Accountability: Have data management systems in place that you monitor closely.
- Purposes and Limitations: Explain the following to customers: The type of information you are collecting, How you will use it, Who you share personal data with, and How long you store data.
- Data Minimization: Think of it as rationing – don’t collect more data than you need or can safely store. Create a list of who has data access.
- Data Accuracy: Keep records as current as possible. Give users an easy way to request data erasure.
- Security & Integrity: Privacy-by-design systems limit access to a select number of authorized people. Notify users of which third parties also have access to their data.
- Storage Limits: Use software to encrypt and anonymize user information. Know where you store user data. Delete or discard data you no longer need or use.
- Lawful, Fair & Transparent: Provide contact information for users to request the review or removal of their information from your data systems.
Technology news can sometimes seem murky or confusing. We’d love to talk more if you have questions about digital data privacy laws, or want to know what steps to take to ensure your business and customers are protected.
[stylebox color=”red” icon=”delete” icon_size=”48″]Disclaimer: GDPR is broad in scope and compliance will vary greatly between organizations. This article should not be considered legal advice. This is informational only and aims to help bring you an awareness of GDPR. If you need legal advice after reading this article, please consult an attorney with your specific questions regarding GDPR. [/stylebox]
Is Your Website Mobile Ready?
According to Pew Research Center, over half of adult Americans own a smartphone – a full 55% of the adult population, and that number is only increasing. This means it has become essential that a person using their phone to search the web can access and easily navigate your website. What makes a website good or bad for the internet? We’ll go over those points, and what you can do to ensure you know how to make a website mobile ready.
First, it can help to find out how many people are accessing your website via mobile devices. The simplest way to do this is take a look at Google Analytics. This tool has the option to see what platform, device, and browser people are using to access your site. Some sites are more likely to be accessed from a phone than others, but most sites have at least some content that people might want to quickly access on-the-go. Try to think about parts of your website that someone might want to access while out on the road. For example, if your business has a physical location, your address and phone number should be prominently displayed on your mobile site.
What are the problems with ordinary sites?
There are a few problems that make navigating a website tricky from a mobile device:
- Too much right-scrolling. Your computer monitor is going to be much wider than any mobile device, and if your website persists in maintaining that wider-than-high aspect ratio, it’s going to force people to scroll right when they expect to be scrolling down.
- Small Text. Phone screens are tiny, and if your text does not scale properly, users are going to have to continually ‘pinch’ their screens to zoom in. This gets tedious when you have to pinch AND side-scroll. That’s work, and people don’t want to work to find your info on a website.
- Images and Videos are not adjusted. It’s important that a user not have to do finger-screen gymnastics to view an image or watch a video.
- Website loads too slow. Phones using data plans are usually considerably slower to load content than a regular computer connected to high speed internet. Additionally, data plans can be limited and capped. Don’t make a user spend precious time and data downloading content that is unnecessary.
- Navigation is difficult. Dropdown menus and lots of small buttons and links might be perfectly fine for a mouse, but generally a person is not going to carry a stylus to click on an itty-bitty link. Be sure a button is big enough to afford even the larger-fingered among us some accuracy.
How make things mobile-friendly
All that said, making sure you have a mobile-friendly website is not the beast of a challenge it may seem like. You have a few options to consider:
- Build a mobile version of your site. Technically, you will have two sites, one optimized for mobile devices, the other for the web. The problem here is that both sites are going to need maintenance and updating, and forgetting the content for your mobile site is going to be potentially worse than an inconvenient site.
- Use a Mobile-Optimized theme. If your site is targeted primarily at mobile users, it may be worth the time to consider designing your website with a mobile device in mind, and then adjust it accordingly for computer-based use later.
- Build an app. Lately everyone has jumped on the app bandwagon, but an app to download on a device may be worth your time to consider if your site does special things or has features that are above and beyond the needs of a website. If your app is just going to be a downloadable reproduction of your website, however, it may not be worth the time and effort.
- Use a responsive design. Appletree Mediaworks’ more recent web designs are responsive, geared both for use on a computer’s web browser and mobile devices concurrently. Responsive sites seamlessly transform themselves to fit whatever device they are being viewed on. Many WordPress themes are designed to be responsive.
Website Hostage Negotiations
“Help! My web host won’t give me access to my files! They won’t relinquish my domains! They’ve taken my website hostage!” Though it seems like a crazy scenario, these cries are heard far more often than you might expect. Like a rogue valet driving off with your shiny new car never to return, as soon as you hand a web host your keys, you’ve entrusted them with more than many people realize; and not all of them are willing to simply return your property once the time has come to part ways.
How do I know if my host has gone rogue?
Often, a business owner won’t even realize there is a problem until they attempt to switch hosts. Only after requesting their web assets do they realize that their host isn’t cooperative. How do you know if your host is holding you hostage? Here are a few tell-tale indicators that we have identified over the years:
- The host in control of your assets is unresponsive or dodgy, often taking weeks to respond to simple requests. When responses are finally received, they ignore any part of the request which involves them giving you more access to your property.
- The host may become entirely unresponsive by phone.
- The host becomes unwilling to bend server settings to suit your needs, but equally unwilling to assist in helping you switch hosts to one that will.
- Your host does not give you access to any sort of control panel so that you can manage the website yourself; or, the control panel is limited in such a way that you cannot manage hosted domains or backup databases and files.
- Generally, if you find yourself second-guessing good business decisions based on your web host’s temperament that day, your host has gone rogue. It’s time to get out.
How do I regain control of my website?
Okay, so you’ve decided to break up with your web host. It turns out that breaking up isn’t always easy to do. There are several aspects which you must consider:
- Domain Names
- Website Files
The most important part is your Domain Name. This is your company identity – guard it as well as you can. We always recommend having your domain names hosted in a separate location from your website. That way, if your host goes rogue, you still hold the keys and can always simply point the DNS at a more reputable target while you work behind the scenes to regain control of your files. If your bad host is also in control of your domain name, the process can be more involved, but is still doable. Here are the steps we recommend for regaining control:
- Make certain that you are paid up on your hosting and domain registry fees. Sometimes, hosts will hold you hostage until you pay your bill. Domain registry fees are even more important, as failing to pay them can cause you to lose ownership of your domain name entirely.
- Do a Whois lookup on your domain and look for the Administrative Contact’s email address. If this is set to an email address you can check, transferring the domain will be simple. If not, see if you can change it in your host’s control panel.
- Set up an account at GoDaddy or another Registrar of your choice. Make sure it is not the same place where you wish to host your website. From here, begin a domain transfer. An authorization code will be sent to the Administrative Contact on the domain. If that is an address that your host controls, they will receive the email.
- If your host received the authorization code, you should submit a formal request to the host that they forward the code to you. If email or phone requests are ineffective, send a USPS Certified Letter. If the host is still unresponsive, send one from your lawyer. If your host/registrar is approved by ICANN, they are bound by certain legal requirements.
Website Files are usually easier to obtain. Very few hosts – even if they’ve gone sour – fail to provide at least FTP access to your site. If not, you can use a website downloader tool such as HTTrack to download an offline copy of the website. Keep in mind that this will not download any server-side code such as PHP. Depending on the complexity of your site, this may or may not be the final word, but, it is better to at least have a working offline copy in case you need to hire a developer to restore the site to operable status and need a frame of reference.
In order to backup your databases, you will either need access to a hosting control panel or a clever developer. If you are unable to backup your database through your host’s control panel, sometimes it can be done with code. One trick I’ve used in the past is to install a copy of phpMyAdmin in a folder within the live website, examining the website files to find the database login information. This, of course, requires that you have at least FTP access to your server. If phpMyAdmin will not work, a good developer can sometimes write custom scripts to export essential database tables.
Email addresses will most likely need to be recreated on the new host regardless of your situation. Make sure that you have a list of your active email addresses before making the move. Additionally, for any accounts that have a lot of important emails stored, use a program such as Outlook to download existing email from your host before pulling the plug. It is a good idea to do the final transfer on a weekend or late at night when you are unlikely to miss important emails during the switch.
So as you can see, though bad web hosts can be a nightmare to deal with, they aren’t the end of the world. Here at Appletree MediaWorks, we have navigated some of the worst and come out on top. Feel free to drop us a line if you find yourself unable to navigate these troubled waters. We’ll be more than happy to help. And we won’t go rogue on you – we promise! (it’s super bad for business) 🙂
We’re often asked what advantages WordPress has over traditional “normal” web sites. Why should you migrate to a WordPress site? The short answer is simple: WordPress is so easy to maintain that it enables you to deliver content to your customers with increased rapidity, in a way that keeps up with – and plugs into – today’s social media driven web.
WordPress is a content management system – a platform that empowers content creators with easy publishing and editing features which put you and your team in control of your content. To your customers, WordPress functions exactly like a regular website, while having significant advantages, which the WebMechanix blog elaborates upon.
Fast and Easy
- WordPress allows for quick and easy content changes. If you need to edit a web page or fix a blog post, it can be done in moments without a high level of technical knowledge. If you have used Facebook, you already have the skills required to maintain your own WordPress web site.
- Not only does WordPress enable you to edit your own content, but it also allows you to grant access to any number of users, with very fine-tuned levels of control. You can easily set up a team of administrators, editors, authors, contributors, and so on. At Appletree MediaWorks, we can also create custom user roles to fit your precise needs. This level of control would be more difficult to set up on a traditional web site and often requires more in-depth training once the system is live.
- Though WordPress started out as a platform for bloggers, it has grown into something much more comprehensive and powerful over time. With WordPress, you can host a static “normal” website, a blog, or a combination of the two.
- The appearance of a WordPress web site is completely customizable. A common misconception is that every WordPress site looks the same; however, this is not the case. Appletree MediaWorks has years of experience building customized WordPress themes for our clients. Our portfolio highlights some work we’ve done previously, and provides an idea of the services we could do for your business.
- Thousands of plugins, maintained by an actively engaged community of developers, ensures that WordPress will continue to be a viable solution long into the future. Want to add an event calendar? A photo gallery? Facebook integration? Trackable social media integration? No problem.
Search Engine Optimized (SEO)
- WordPress is SEO friendly – Google, Bing, and other search engines love to crawl WordPress web sites. This not only means that you’re likely to pop up on a web search, but that your updates and new blog posts are more likely to be discovered as well.
There are many components to consider when planning your new website. Ultimately, the most important requirement is that your message gets delivered to your prospective clients in a positive and engaging way. The Appletree Media experts can help you set up a WordPress website to make this an easy, fast, and flexible reality. We are also experienced at migrating existing web sites to WordPress.
Forbes outlined 5 steps to consider in order to effectively plan out your business’s website.
1. How will you get people to your website? More specifically, what marketing techniques will you be using to attract your target audience? Is it search engine optimization? Pay-per-click advertising? Social media? PR? This step is very important, as it often answers many of the questions below. Tip: Calculate which marketing technique works best for your site, by figuring out which has the lowest cost-per-acquisition (how much you spent on getting a customer).
2. Who will be coming to the site? Your website needs to take all kinds of visitors by the hand and help them find what they are looking for. Within a few seconds of getting to your site, a visitor needs to know what to do next. Do they need to sign up? Should they click a link to learn more? Once you determine what visitors are coming, you’ll be able to determine what they need to do once they get there. Tip: Don’t try to please everyone, but have your site clearly laid out to direct visitors wherever they need to go. If you do too much your website will become busy and difficult to navigate. Focus on a few key features that majority of your visitors will benefit from.
3. What questions will my visitors have? Am I at the right place? How long have you been in business? Can I afford you? How do I know your product or service is any good? How can I learn more about your services and company? How do I contact you? Tip: Try to answer the questions before they are asked. For example, if your visitors come to purchase a specific product that you’re well-known for in the industry, have that product easily located so they know they’re in the right place and can access product details right away. Clear, short messages work great.
4. What do you want your visitors to do? Should they pick up the phone and call you? E-mail? Sign up for something? Buy your product online? A great website will guide your traffic where you want them to end up. If you’re selling a product, convince the visitors to buy and make it easy for them to do so. If you offer a service, let them know how and why they can benefit from it. Tip: Be clear and concise. Don’t make visitors think.
5. How do my visitors like to stay in touch? Keep in mind, that most people who come to your website won’t become a customer. In fact, the average conversion rate on the Internet is around one percent, meaning only 1 out of 100 visitors will end up contacting you, signing up, or buying something. Find out what forms of communication your visitors prefer and give them the means to stay connected: e-mail, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, RSS Feeds, and more. Tip: Engaging your customers is important, as most people don’t convert on the first visit. Keep them coming back by identifying your target visitor and catering to the market that best reaches them. If they’re entry-level professionals and they’re constantly engaging in social media, have a social media presence and actively provide them reasons to return to your site. By engaging visitors you’ll give them incentive to return, convert, and hopefully invite their network to do the same.
No matter how big or small your company, monitoring your brand online is an essential task that must be done on a regular basis. With the prevalence of social media, it’s far too easy for one person’s bad experience to go viral. Watching for and correcting these issues is the only way to ensure your brand remains in a positive light.
There are many tools out there to assist you with monitoring your brand, and most of them are free.
The easiest tool to use is Google. You can set up a Google Alert (sent right to your email) that searches regularly for whatever you want – in this case, your best bet would be your brand name. You can also refine it to just send you news, video, discussions, blogs, etc.
Another great tool is Twitter – using the Twitter search, you can monitor your name, your company’s name, or even your competitors, and have the results fed into an RSS reader for your convenience. And since Twitter posts are so rapid, you may want to use TweetDeck or HootSuite to keep a closer eye on things.
While not free, Trackur is an excellent tool for small business to keep tabs on social media. You can “monitor your reputation, your news mentions, your PR campaigns, your employees, or your competition. Trackur’s social media monitoring tools are easy to use, yet offer a surprising number of features.” With plans starting at just $27 a month, any small business can easily afford to sign up.
If your business is booming and you’ve got a little more to spend, try out UberVu. Their dashboard monitors and analyzes mentions on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and more. You can also perform a “sentiment analysis” to find out what the general feeling is towards your brand, and you can even use UberVu to compare your brand to your competitors.
These are just a few tools that are available for monitoring your brand online – more in-depth research may uncover something perfect for your organization.