Secure transactions sought

Some of the internet's heaviest hitters were meeting yesterday in the US in an attempt to organise a global system to help ease the privacy and security concerns of online shoppers that may be wary of making purchases over the web.

America Online, IBM, Microsoft and Dell Computer are among the seven companies taking part in the initiative, which is expected to be announced this week at the start of a two-day US Federal Trade Commission and US Department of Commerce workshop in Washington DC.

The workshop will explore the use of "alternative dispute resolution mechanisms" for online consumer transactions. The idea is to focus on ways these programs could be administered and adhered to by companies signing up for the initiative to protect them if any type of deal goes bad.

Should there be a dispute, consumers must first direct their complaints or issues to a third party via email. Local courts could be brought in to resolve the matter if neither side is satisfied with the third party's decision.

Some early proposals for the new guidelines for companies include examination and full disclosure of a sale's complete lifecycle for review. Standards are also in development to address privacy for customer records, policies for cancellation, refunds and returns, packaging, and delivery. Warranty, customer service, and support methods must also be examined.

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