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Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, and Acceptable Use Policy: What are the Differences?

In Communication, Information Design, Law, Property, Rhetoric & Communication on January 8, 2014 at 8:45 am

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“Terms of use,” also called “terms of service,” are agreements between website owners and users of the website.  By consenting to the “terms of use,” a user manifests his or her assent to certain conditions in order to access the website; in some cases, accessing a website will itself constitute acquiescence to the restrictions and conditions explained in the “terms of use.” “Terms of use” may explain what will happen to someone who hacks into the website, may divest users of certain legal rights as a condition for use, or may detail the consequences of behaving or transacting in certain ways on the website. Social networks such as Facebook are notorious for frequently modifying their “terms of use,” and “terms of use” are often subject to criticism for their allegedly unfair contracting and bargaining practices and for concealing or obscuring information in shrinkwraps, browsewraps, and clickwraps.

A privacy policy is a disclosure regarding the information a website collects and how that information is used by the website owner.  Not all websites have privacy policies, but privacy policies are required of websites directed at children.  Websites containing health data for patients or banking and financial data for customers are also required to have and display privacy policies.  A privacy policy discloses what personal information is gathered by the website and states whether, for instance, a website uses cookies or targeted advertising, and whether the data collected by the website is shared with third parties.

Unlike “terms of use” or privacy policies, acceptable use policies generally are between employers and employees and govern the ways in which employees and other authorized users handle websites or networks of the employer.  The laws governing acceptable use policies are strict. For instance, acceptable use policies must be clear and made known to employees; they must also explain what sanctions are appropriate or applicable if the acceptable use policy is violated.


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