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Make sure you are operating lawfully when going online due to COVID-19

24.03.2020
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In this uncertain and disruptive time of COVID-19, many businesses are attempting to engage their customers online, in place of real-life engagement, due to the societal need of “social distancing” balanced against the need of companies to keep money coming in.

Going online is an excellent solution if this approach is possible for your operation! That being said, when companies go online (many for the first time), they need to understand that just their transferral of their operations online, can mean that they suddenly trigger the application of new laws, or they may need new Terms of Use and Service to adapt to their new online engagement platform. When it comes to remaining legal when going online, you cannot simply assume that the same law applies to your operations as before, where you have to ascertain if any new laws apply, and what exactly is then required from you to implement, in order to remain compliant.

To understand and subsequently implement any newly applicable laws to your online platform, the following general steps should be undertaken:

  1. Detail a list of all of the services you will be offering online / be providing by virtue of being online: The types of services you offer in South Africa will determine the laws applicable to the services, so once you know what you will provide, you can determine what laws will apply. For common examples, if you allow people to now register a profile online, your Privacy Policy needs to accommodate for such novel processing. If you now allow online payments, the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act will most likely apply.
  2. Ascertain what each applicable law requires of you to provide on your platform, and then implement it: Once you have collated all of the applicable laws, you then need to understand what they each require of you and your platform’s operations, and implement them. For example, if you process minors’ information, has your Privacy Policy been updated to include the mandatory clauses for such sensitive personal data, and have you created the new consent click-wraps needed?
  3. Ensure that your new website policies are implemented and provided at the right times and places on your Website: Just having the necessary Website Terms on your platform is not good enough, without having provided them to your users at the correct junctures of engaging with you online. Implementing the Website Terms in the correct places and times is quite a nuanced skill, so get a legal advisor to assist. In a nutshell, the relevant Website Terms must be made available at any juncture where a user needs to know about the applicable Terms to make an informed decision at that salient point (such as when they click “Register” or “Purchase”).
  4. Be ready for novel online engagement with your customers: Be ready to assist all of your customers online, with novel customer issues you may never have experienced before with conventional brick-and-mortar operations. Actively plan for all contingency scenarios which could happen online, and have a plan of action to handle all of them with ease and confidence to espouse to your intangible customers.

The above are just some of the notable considerations to be aware of when taking your IRL operations online.

Legalese can assist you with all stages of this transformation for your company, ensuring that you are not only lawful when adapting to online operations, but in also having your interests protected when the law fails you. From drafting your necessary Website Terms, to helping you understand the applicable laws to your operation (and everything in between), we can do it all with our E-Commerce and Online Platform Full-Service Offering.

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