Online Privacy Protection Gets International Rules

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a new set of guidelines Thursday that are designed to promote economic growth, trade, and development by improving international consumer confidence in online transactions.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was among the government bodies from 29 countries around the world that worked together on the new rules. The basic premise is that “Online shoppers should be afforded effective protection that is not less than protection afforded offline,” the FTC said.

However, as guidelines instead of international laws, the principles are not legally binding. Instead, they “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,” the FTC said. “These guidelines contain the building blocks to develop [consumer] confidence in a global electronic market.”

Pushing U.S. Principles

The FTC also noted that the guidelines are similar to the core elements of U.S. consumer protection law, and some provisions mirror moves that private sector companies have already made to help reassure online shoppers. The guidelines may also help promote further cooperation among governments on other Internet issues, the FTC suggested.

The U.S. has been lobbying international groups such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce for uniform rules on Internet taxation and other online issues.

The OECD guidelines call for fair business, advertising and marketing practices. They also urge companies to provide enough information on their Web sites to allow consumers to make informed choices, including disclosures about the online businesses, their goods and services, and the terms and conditions of sales.

Online merchants should also establish clear processes for confirming transactions and resolving disputes in a timely and affordable manner, and they should make greater efforts toward overall consumer and business education about the Internet and e-commerce, the OECD says.

Wide Range Of Input

The United States based its positions in the OECD talks on input from consumers, industry, government and educators, as well as feedback from the workshop that the Federal Trade Commission held last June on “U.S. Perspectives on Consumer Protection in the Global Electronic Marketplace.”

The guidelines represent international consensus among the 29 OECD member countries, which agreed 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, the FTC said.

“We believe that these guidelines are a significant first step in developing clear, concrete protections for online consumers all over the world,” the agency added.

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