Who Really Owns Your Web Assets?


If you believe that only hackers or ransomware can take your website hostage, think again. You may not know it yet, but at this very moment your website and web assets may be held to ransom by suppliers whom you trust the most. Have you ever had the thought, “Oh, this web stuff is too complex, I’ll just get my web person to deal with it.” This seemingly innocent request can turn into a nightmare that can seriously put your business at risk.

Business owners typically throw directions about such as, “Can you register xyz domain for me?”, “Can you setup Facebook for me?” or “Can you setup MailChimp for me?” Web agencies and suppliers usually respond, “Yeah, easy stuff, I will set it up so you don’t need to worry about it.”

However, most business owners learn a hard lesson at the time they want to change suppliers or add an additional advisor to the mix. The web supplier whom you trusted at the time may have registered your domain, or setup Google Analytics or social media accounts in their business name.  If that person becomes stroppy that you have asked another provider to assist or there is a dispute, you may have put yourself into a predicament that may be hard to get out of. Essentially, you have lost ownership of your web assets and the risks are paramount.  Here are the consequences of abdicating your ownership.

Domain Names

Domain names are an important part of your brand and intellectual property. Not owning your domain name may make it challenging to sell your business, change hosting providers, and have full control of your email. If you are unable to reclaim your domain name, you may be forced to change the domain name and corresponding brand name.

Google Analytics

Analytics provide a plethora of data of how well your online business is performing. Unfortunately you cannot transfer the ownership of a Google Analytics account, so a new one needs to be created within your own name. This means data collected prior to establishing the new account will be lost.

Website Hosting

The website or ecommerce platform files reside on a website hosting server. Many web agencies host multiple client websites on the one server.  In the event that they go out of business, you are unlikely to have access to copy all of your files to transfer to another hosting provider.  Your website platform and content could disappear overnight.

Social Media Accounts

As you build up an audience following and brand online, your social media channels may become popular. Not being able to control who has access allows a disgruntled supplier to publish negative content about your business on your social profiles.  Additionally, you may need to start again and lose the following you had built up.

Email Marketing Platform

A popular website or online business will likely build a large email mailing list containing prospects and customer data. By losing your customer data, you lose the ability to communicate easily with your customer base, which will decrease the valuation of your business.  It also places your business in a precarious position, as you are legally responsible for the privacy and protection of customer data.

How to protect your business going forward

1. Audit the ownership of all your web assets. Create a list and confirm you are the owner.  You may need to speak with your web agency and suppliers to help you with this process. Inform them this is part of your risk management process.
2. If there are web assets in the names of your suppliers, work on a plan to either transfer ownership or create new accounts. Now is better than later.
3. Document the ownership details of your web assets in your SOP software and ensure all passwords are secured in a password management software.
Jacqui Jones is the founder of Way We Do, a cloud-based SOP Software, that enables business owners to create and actively use a business operations manual, including policies, procedures, work instructions and training materials that teams can access from any location, on any device. www.waywedo.com