When referring to and displaying privacy statements and terms and conditions, commercial websites use vastly different and often confusing definitions.
A survey by Comodo Research Lab has shown that terminology greatly differs even between websites within the same legal boundaries, such as the UK.
A sample of over 2000 UK companies with commercial websites were examined and their use of legal terminology recorded. The results show that over 50 different definitions referring to 'terms and conditions' (as commonly used in the physical world) were used. Further variations in terminology for 'privacy statement' were also identified.
"This shows us that the web is far behind the physical world in the standardisation of legal terminology." states Steven Waite, Marketing & Information Manager for the Comodo Research Lab. "It is inevitable that such variation leads to customer confusion as to which documents refer to their rights as a consumer, as a result many people are unaware of the critical legalities and small print they would ordinarily read in the physical world."
The survey has shown that it is not just terminology that varies between sites. Additionally, the location of such policies within the website fail to show any level of standardisation. "Some websites display a link to terms and conditions on their front page, others provide links in the corporate section, and some provide links in dedicated legal or copyright sections." comments Waite, "as a result, it is rare that any two websites provide such links in the same way!"
The European Union has drafted in Directive 2000/31/EU for Electronic Commerce that standardised terminology be used for policy documentation by websites. The directive also states that such information be presented to website visitors in a 'permanent and direct manner'. The Comodo survey has shown that neither are commonplace throughout UK companies.
The report was collected as part of the ongoing market research and customer feedback from the core features of TrustToolbar Plug-in; the free web navigation and security enhancement Internet Explorer plug-in from the Comodo Research Lab.
TrustToolbar Plug-in achieves this necessary standardisation by providing access to a website's terms and conditions and the website's privacy statement through a drop down menu on its interface. Through a single click, 'direct and permanent' access to a websites terms and conditions and privacy statement is provided.
"It does not matter which website the customer is on, or indeed where the website is in the world, TrustToolbar Plug-in will always use the same terminology and provide the same means of accessing Ts & Cs and privacy statements." comments Waite.
The sample for the study consisted of 2000 UK commercial websites. Data was collected in September 2001 by the Data Management Unit of the Comodo Research Lab. This survey has been updated since initial findings were published in on October 2 2001.
Steven Waite is the Marketing & Information Manager for the Comodo Research Lab.
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