Thoughts on Disclaimers

Published on October 28, 2008 (↻ October 8, 2023), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

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 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 yet there are laws that require us to use them.

Disclaimers on Websites

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 little 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 reflecting a 1998 court order)—fortunately, context appears to be important.

Disclaimers in Emails

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.

As I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, just take this German–English addendum from an email I received in April (unedited):

Die vorangehende e-mail inkl. jeglicher Anhänge beinhaltet Informationen, die vertraulich oder nicht für die Öffentlichkeit bestimmt sein könnten. Sie ist nur für den/die designierten Empfänger bestimmt. Sollten Sie nicht der designierte Empfänger sein, informieren Sie bitte den Absender und löschen Sie die Nachricht aus Ihrem System. Gebrauch, Verbreitung, Verteilung oder Reproduktion dieser Nachricht sind untersagt und können rechtswidrig sein.

The preceding e-mail message (including any attachments) contains information that may be confidential, or constitute non-public information. It is intended to be conveyed only to the designated recipient(s). If you are not an intended recipient of this message, please notify the sender by replying to this message and then delete it from your system. Use, dissemination, distribution, or reproduction of this message by unintended recipients is not authorized and may be unlawful.

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 an extra signature link pointing to all legally relevant information on the company’s website could perhaps be a more elegant alternative—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…

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. 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.