Build A Safer Site

The Problem: Uncertain Legal Standards for Web Sites.
If you operate a Web site, there are two things we know for certain:

  1. There are more laws that apply to your site, from more states and countries, than anyone can track, and
  2. The conduct expected of a Webmaster under many of these laws is uncertain.

This uncertainty is going to last a long time. Society will be wrestling for many years with the new opportunities and problems of cyberspace, trying to figure out just how important Web sites are in the scheme of things. Should Web sites be free to bring us information and services at minimum cost, or should they be made to police the Net, insuring that only “legal” and “safe” materials get through to the public?

Materials Posted by Visitors to the Site.  Some of the biggest legal questions arise when the Webmaster permits site visitors to upload their own materials, and then makes them available to others who visit the site. This happens in chat areas, threaded discussions, and other popular interactive areas. Who is responsible for these materials the users who post them? The Webmaster? Or both?   

Reducing the Risks.  Faced with
uncertain legal standards, some people feel absolutely helpless.  Others stick their heads in the sand, murmuring “there are no laws in cyberspace.” Fortunately, these are not the only choices. There are indeed ways to manage risks on a Web site, even when legal standards keep changing.. Here’s how.

Risk Reduction Tips

Keep Different Services Separate:When you offer different services at a Web site, place each service in its own page or area.

Reproduce Models Faithfully. If you are basing your Web site services on specific business or media models (common models are “storefront business” and “daily newspaper”), then reproduce the “look and feel” of each model closely, and don’t mix conflicting attributes of different models.

Outsource Tasks and Risks. Hire outside contractors to manage Web tasks that are beyond your resources or outside your interests.

Hands Off the Data Stream. Whenever your Web site simply transmits an information stream originating outside the site, do not interfere with the transmitted content except for good reason.

Republish Outside Materials with Care. Where your Web site republishes outside materials, limit the risk of those materials at the source.

Use Contracts to Limit Risks. Enter into contracts with site visitors and others.

Know Your Users. Obtain identity information on Web site visitors, so you won’t be responsible for their activities.

Employ Reasonable Management Policies. Develop reasonable policies for responding to problem materials that may appear at your Web site.

Manage Your Image. Review your advertising and publicity, to make sure they don’t raise the legal standards applied to your Web site.

Avoid Linking to Problem Sites. Do not link to Web sites known to carry illegal or dangerous materials.

Use Disclaimers When Necessary. Disclaimers should be used for services that pose special legal risks, or are subject to government regulation.