Guidelines for consumer protection in online commerce were adopted today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental forum of 29 countries, including the United States, established to promote economic growth, trade and development. According to the guidelines, online shoppers should be afforded effective protection that is not less than protection afforded offline. Although not legally binding, the guidelines provide a blueprint for governments as they formulate and implement consumer protections for electronic commerce; for the private sector as it develops self-regulatory schemes and "best practices;" and for consumers as they determine what fair business practices they should expect to encounter online.
"Global online commerce promises to grow at a stunning rate," said FTC Commissioner Mozelle W. Thompson, who led the U.S. delegation in the OECD deliberations. "But global online commerce will not reach its full potential unless consumers are confident they will have effective protections online. These guidelines contain the building blocks to develop that confidence in a global electronic market. They reflect many core elements of current U.S. consumer protection law; encourage private sector initiatives that involve consumer representatives; provide guidance to industry on good business practices in e-commerce; and call on governments to work together across borders to combat fraud and deception."
The OECD guidelines call for:
- fair business, advertising and marketing practices;
- enough information to allow consumers to make informed choices, including disclosures about online businesses, their goods and services, and the terms and conditions of sale;
- clear processes for confirming transactions;
- secure payment mechanisms;
- timely and affordable dispute resolution and redress processes;
- privacy protection;
- consumer and business education;
- international government cooperation.
The U.S. delegation, steered by Commissioner Thompson together with members of the Department of Commerce, actively sought input from consumers, industry, government, and academia. The U.S. positions during the drafting process also were informed by public submissions and dialogue in connection with the Federal Trade Commission's workshop on "U.S. Perspectives on Consumer Protection in the Global Electronic Marketplace," held last June.
After months of negotiation, the guidelines now represent international consensus among the 29 OECD member countries on core fair business practices as well as the importance of practical solutions that will benefit consumers in the short term, like self regulation and alternative dispute resolution. "We believe that these guidelines are a significant first step in developing clear, concrete protections for online consumers all over the world," Thompson said.
Copies of "Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of Electronic Commerce," transcripts of the FTC workshop on "U.S. Perspectives on the Global Electronic Marketplace," a list of OECD members and related documents are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. More information about the OECD can be found at their web site at http://www.oecd.org
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