Most Australian e-business fails privacy policy tests

Australian Internet business sites have failed in the development of privacy policies, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said today.

In a consumer test of more than 3,000 sites ACCC chairman Professor Allan Fels said Australian companies wanting to do business on the Internet need to upgrade privacy policies so consumers feel safe.

The sweep of 229 Australian sites which was part of a wider international two-day site checking project across 19 countries found about one in ten sites disclosed a privacy policy.

Justifiably Fels said consumers are wary of leaping into cyberspace with their credit cards because of fears such details will be disclosed or misused by other parties.

"Companies need to develop a privacy policy so that consumers not only feel safe, but are safe; Australian e-tailers must remember that consumer protection laws apply to them, just as much as they do to main-street stores and mail-order companies," he said.

The sweep examined disclosure of physical addresses, e-mail or telephone contact, itemised costs and specification of currency quoted, restrictions on purchase (such as age or geographic limits), refund and warranty policies and privacy.

While Australian business scored well on disclosure of addresses and contact details only three out of ten 'allowed' for returns, exchanges and refunds. Even fewer disclosed their privacy policy.

Fels said this must be rectified because "cyber-stores do not work in a laissez-faire environment and cannot take consumers rights away".

He said consumers will shy away from using sites they do not trust and warned of dubious claims that have proliferated on the Internet such as 'miracle' cures and other health issues.

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