We already discussed how to use other people’s creative works and how to protect your intellectual property online, so now it is time to find out more about the legal aspects of privacy when running your blog, as well as other important issues to consider such as spam, defamation, using third party blog tools, user generated content, etc.

Privacy and data protection or just do not share details of your neighbor’s PMS on your blog

Processing other people’s personal data is carefully regulated in Europe and should be taken seriously. Under EU law, personal data can only be gathered legally under strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose.

Personal information is any information about an individual who can be identified and relates to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity. It includes data such as name, address, phone number, place of birth, ID and passport data, marital status, professional biography, mental condition, sexual orientation, race, religious views, property and financial status, participation in companies, etc.

Processing personal data more or less includes any operation performed with regards to the information, such as collection, recording, organization, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission and many others. Simply said, if you happen to share info on your blog about your coworker who broke their leg and stayed home on sick leave, maybe a bit too long, be advised that this may be illegal, unless your colleague expressly agreed on you posting this information.

One of the most important principles of data protection is that personal data should not be processed at all, except when certain conditions are met – i.e. the data is processed only for legitimate purposes (and in most cases this includes the data subject agreeing to the processing), it is processed not in excess in relation to the purposes it is collected, the data subject is informed about the processing of their information, they are given access to their data, etc.

What does the above legal mumbo-jumbo mean for bloggers?

  • If you collect private data on your blog, you should be completely sure you are abiding the EU data protection laws applicable to your country. This always means, among others, that you must a) disclose the fact that you are collecting personal information; b) make sure your readers have agreed upon their data being processed; c) keep it from unauthorized access.
  • Draft a privacy policy and make it available to everyone to provide transparency on the specifics of processing private data – what you collect, how you use it, how you keep it, etc.
  • If possible, avoid sharing any of the following about people others than yourself: racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, data concerning health or sex life.
  • Do not sell or give personal data of your blog visitors to third parties (e.g. for direct marketing purposes) without permission from each individual. Keep in mind that specific requirements apply, if you transfer personal information to countries outside the EU. Let’s say you use email marketing SaaS which is based and located in China – in this case you should research the specific rules to transferring private data to third countries or consult a lawyer.

SPAM, other than Monty Python’s sketch

Well, it is not always spam, but when you plan sending mass e-mails to your blog’s mail list, bear in mind unsolicited commercial messages regulation in the EU. Laws differ within Europe, but to be on the safe side, consider the following:

  • Obtain each person’s permission of sending them mass e-mails. If possible, follow the double-opt in system, which basically means each person expressed their consent twice – once through registration and the second time by clicking on the confirmation link received in their inbox. Services like MailChimp always use double opt-in, so just use that option.
  • In your privacy policy, clearly explain what you plan to do with the e-mails you collect – keep them only for yourself, send newsletters, give them to your advertisers for marketing purposes, etc.
  • When sending mass e-mails, include an option for people to opt-out.
  • When sending such e-mails, make sure to reveal your identity, as concealing it is prohibited.

Defamation or just avoid damaging other people’s reputation

Everyone knows lying is bad. So if you have information about a person or an entity which could negatively affect that person or thing`s reputation and this information happens to be untrue, just do not share it. Avoid posting it even if you know it is true, but you cannot prove it. Libel comes with consequences that you as a blogger might wish to stay away from.

User-generated content – who owns the rights to the comments to my posts?

Comments such as “Great post” may not be a proper intellectual property work entitled for protection, but as long as certain comments comply with the requirement for originality (let’s say a poem), they are automatically protected as the intellectual property of the their author, which unfortunately may not be you.

Same thing applies to images uploaded by visitors or any other proper intellectual property work. So, although published on your blog, keep in mind that you may not be permitted to freely use them. To clarify things, just include a section in your Terms of Use regarding dealing with user-generated content. Among others, set out that you can use it for any purposes without restriction. Furthermore, do not allow anonymous comments, do not manipulate them and make sure to delete comments every time a user requests so. Last but not least, specify you are not liable for infringing third party content published on your blog and undertake to promptly remove any, if it comes to your knowledge.

Conclusion or what other annoying legal stuff to consider

If your blog posts cover medical, nutritional, financial, legal, sport, etc. topics, it may be a good idea to draft disclaimers to limit your liability, as people may apply them directly. Suggest they consult a professional in the field in case a specific problem that needs solving arises, as blog posts are usually too vague to provide precise advice on particular matters.

And finally, if you use third party blog tools, such as blogspot, you may want to take a look at their terms of services, as they may in some way impose unexpected limitations to your blog.

*Featured image credentials: SolisImages, www.dollarphotoclub.com