-Wes Anderson, Attorney

It bears mentioning when one of the world’s most famous brands releases one of the world’s most prominent and readable privacy policies. That’s just what Apple did this week, and the message to other brands is clear – privacy policies can be a massive marketing opportunity, not just an obscure legal nuisance.

Every business that interacts with its customers and obtains customer data needs a privacy policy. It informs customers about how it will collect, use, share, and protect the consumer data it collects from them. Many sweep their policies under the rug, and we’re all familiar with the fine print links at the bottom of most websites. Like many clickwrap agreements or other terms and conditions, virtually no consumers read privacy policies, and few are aware of what they agree to when they provide their data to these businesses.

Apple unveiled a new privacy policy this week that turns that concept on its head. Starting with a letter from CEO Tim Cook, the new policy covers all of Apple’s activities and interactions with customers. It is clear, informative, and — most importantly — readable to the average consumer. In fact, as many commentators have noted, Apple actually wants consumers to read the policy. (I should note that Apple’s website — as opposed to its activities more generally — still uses a more traditional, verbose privacy policy.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 7.44.59 AM

This is a bold step in getting consumers’ attention. And not surprisingly, the tech press has warmly welcomed Apple’s new policy. It’s also a shot across the bow at companies like Google that rely on consumer data as a facet of their monetization strategy (very broadly speaking, Google uses targeted advertisements for much of its revenue, while Apple relies chiefly on its physical products)

As web services continue to broaden their reach, just about every brand owner can take a page out of Apple’s book. This new policy speaks to the importance of a thorough and well-thought out privacy policy, not just for legal compliance reasons but also to support your brand. A privacy policy is not only a legal document — it’s also a marketing strategy.

Successful brands build trust with consumers and encourage transparency, and a readable, forthright privacy policy is a great way to do that. As more and more data breaches occur in the marketplace (most recently, for example, the T-Mobile / Experian breach), it is critically important to inform consumers of what you do to protect their data, not just for legal reasons, but to inspire trust in your brand. This is particularly important in industries where consumers may not be familiar with the businesses’ inner workings (ask someone on the street where “the cloud” is located).

Now may be a good time to ask: is your policy mere boilerplate, or, like Apple, does it work to shape your brand?