Thoughts on Disclaimers

Post from October 28, 2008 (↻ June 12, 2021), filed under  (feed).

Disclaimers are popular in Germany, both for websites and emails. Recently I came across the German Wikipedia article on disclaimers which talks about the topic in detail, and I could not but go for yet another “thoughts” post, focusing on the bad in disclaimers.

In a nutshell: We may deal with misconceptions around both disclaimers and the Web, disclaimers do silly things, and there are laws that require us to use them.

Website Disclaimers

The “technical approaches” recommended by Wikipedia are great to avoid:

These demands seem surreal, forcing a discussion that seems strange to have. It looks like few thought went into the consequences of these requirements. The good thing is that German courts don’t require external links to be accompanied by disclaimers yet (contrary to what people seem to understand considering more than 150,000 disclaimers quoting a 1998 court order)—fortunately, context appears to be important.

Email Disclaimers

There are a lot of questionable, spammy-looking signatures out there already—apparently something I missed to cover earlier—, however two years ago, Germany introduced new requirements for corporate mail targeting companies listed in commercial registers. Among the fine-linked requirements, signatures need to include the company executive, the company name, its legal form, the full office address, register entry and number; on top of that there’s the need to highlight the name of the email sender and their role,—all easily leading to signatures with dozens of lines.

Adding all of this to emails compounds the issues we already face with all-popular top-posting habits, contributes to even more cluttering, and makes email even less user-friendly. A solution like just adding an extra link to signatures pointing somewhere on the company’s website where all legally relevant information is featured could perhaps work, too—but apparently, that would mean that you have to mark that link as external, include the date when you created the link and updated the signature, and…

Toot or tweet about this?

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On October 28, 2008, 21:09 CET, Dave said:

    As usual, you’re spot on. It’s of course important to accommodate users, but I’ve received a growing number of requests and questions along the lines of “what if our users don’t know that the blue underlined words are a link?”

    As web developers, I think it’s important that we refuse many of these silly changes rather than assume the role of kindergarten teacher for each visitor to our site.

  2. On October 29, 2008, 10:52 CET, Michael Schmidt said:

    Still, Wikipedia has nice little icons for external links as well.