Who Are the Big E-Commerce Players Really Watching Out For?

Six of the biggest Internet companies joined forces last week to try and persuade governments throughout the world to make the laws regulating e-commerce more uniform.

In addition, the group that includes such rivals as Microsoft Corp., America Online, Inc. and IBM said it hopes to boost consumer confidence in buying products and services via the World Wide Web.

The other members that have formed the group, which calls itself the Electronic Commerce and Consumer Protection Group, include Dell Computer Corp., Time Warner and Visa USA.

Consumer Protection

The group says it plans to be an advocate for passing laws designed to protect the growing number of consumers worldwide who now are making purchases online using their credit cards.

For instance, the United States gives consumers a period of time to contest disputed credit card charges made over the Internet and also limits liability for purchases made after a card number is stolen. But some nations don’t have such protections in place. These kinds of inconsistencies in consumer protection are a great barrier to the growth of the burgeoning e-commerce economy, the group added.

Not The Only Group

This new group in just the latest industry alliance to get involved in checking what some companies feel are government practices that could stunt the growth of e-commerce. Earlier this year, companies such as German publisher Bertelsmann AG and IBM formed a global organization to fight the taxation of the Internet. They also vigorously fought a European privacy law that would make it more difficult for companies to transmit personal data about their customers over the Internet.

While this all sounds fine and good on the face of it, a red light goes off in my head every time I hear that a group of huge companies are getting together to “protect consumers.” In fact, while this latest advocacy uses the word “consumer” in their somewhat grandiose name, I doubt if any real consumers sit on the board of the organization. Because if they did, they might make some suggestions about protecting consumer privacy that some of these companies would probably contest.

Brought It On Themselves

Let’s face it, many of the existing problems and wavering consumer confidence to do business online can be directly traced to the industry doing a poor job of regulating itself. I still remember the outrage I felt when installing Windows 95 on my computer when it prompted me to fill out a questionnaire that not only inventoried my hardware — but also much of my private life.

I think before this group can seriously tackle the chore of getting worldwide governments to come together on how to regulate e-commerce, they should first get their own houses in order. They should begin by appointing several real consumers to the governing board of their new organization.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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