Last updated on 01 July 2022 by Jocelyn Mackie (Former civil litigation attorney. Content legal strategist at TermsFeed)
Since websites and apps are rarely constrained by borders, there are often questions about the language used for Privacy Policies. English is an internationally-accepted standard in business and law, but that does not mean that every user has command of it.
There is only one law that dictates the language of online agreements and it applies to those who transact business in Canada.
Privacy Policies fulfill two goals: legal compliance and ensuring user confidence in your data security practices.
Most countries around the world have laws regarding data protection and informing users of your data collection practices. These laws are similar in many regards, including how they define personal data.
Personal data includes any information that can distinguish an individual from other users. It includes but isn't limited to:
There is another category of personal data that often requires special handling. Known as sensitive information, this is data that could lead to harassment or endangerment.
The UK and Canada require Privacy Policies but do not distinguish between personal and sensitive data. In the EU, the Data Protection Directive limits data collection to legitimate purposes that are required in order for a business to perform a service or provide a product.
The US does not have a federal law, but California, Nevada, and Illinois all passed their own laws requiring data protection for their citizens. So, if your website or app is available for use by Americans, you must still comply with data protection laws since it is nearly impossible to limit access to just a few states.
Besides legal compliance, making this information accessible to your customers enhances their confidence.
Most Privacy Policies are published in English. While this may not seem like the most considerate approach in non-English speaking countries, it is not required for Privacy Policies to be available in a country's native language.
Current privacy laws require clear outlines of information practices and conspicuous links to Privacy Policies. Users should be able to find them easily either on a website or through an app download platform. Many websites also provide a checkbox and link at sign-up to assure acceptance of the terms as affirmative consent is becoming preferable to passive acceptance.
The one issue not addressed in these laws is language. Even though privacy laws may not include this issue, there are laws that can affect how you present your agreements online.
The Official Languages Act is a Canadian law requiring food labels, websites, and literature to be available in both English and French. That is due to the fact that both are official languages in Canada.
As a result, users have the option to choose their language when they visit a Canadian website. This is done through a drop down menu in a prominent part of the page.
Amazon Canada offers a good example of how to handle language choices. When the user visits the page, there is a small icon next to the signin button that allows the user to choose their language:
Lenovo maintains headquarters in Beijing, China and Morrisville, North Carolina, US. It sells computer hardware all over the world. As expected, its website offers an option in the footer to change countries and website language:
Here's what happens when you choose to read the website in Dutch:
This seems to be an exception rather than the rule at Lenovo. However, it happens because of a simple reason--maintaining agreements in all languages is not required.
Regardless of requirements, translating your agreements into as many languages as possible may be a good business practice.
In the U.S., English is the dominant language with 237.8 million speakers. Spanish is also a common spoken language taking second place to English with 40.5 million speakers. This trend is likely to grow as immigrants from Mexico and Central America move into the the American north and southwest creating communities where Spanish is the primary language.
American businesses are aware of this. Spanish speakers purchase cars, seek professional services, and secure medical care. Many businesses focus on hiring bilingual employees so they can better communicate with this clientele.
Ford Motor Co. is among the companies noticing this demographic shift. Dealerships seek Spanish-speaking sales representatives and its website caters to this population.
As a result, when you visit Ford's website, it offers an option in the footer to change website's language:
Clicking this box lets a user choose between reading the website in English or Spanish:
Ford is not alone in this practice.
Wells Fargo is a national banking chain that is headquartered in California--where many Spanish-speaking immigrants live.
It offers an option in the header to switch the website to the Spanish language:
Companies based in European nations also realize the value of offering websites in multiple languages.
Croatia Airlines offers a number of options for website languages in its header:
It can take a lot of effort to translate online agreements. Hiring a translator who specializes in legal terms is not easy or cheap.
While it is always good to accommodate your customers, assess thoroughly whether it is absolutely necessary.
Before you translate, consider the following:
From a legal compliance angle, translating your agreements also eliminates any argument that your agreement was not enforceable due to a language gap. While there is no legal precedent on this argument, it is still a risk if you enforce an English-only approach to your agreements.
Overall, translation is likely a good idea if you want to avoid possible legal action and keep your customers informed.
This article is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice.
01 July 2022