Govt outlines dot-com dos and don'ts

Another nail was quietly tapped into the coffin of dot-com anarchy yesterday, with the federal government's release of its Best Practice Model for e-businesses.

The business model -- which was jointly developed by the National Office for the Information Economy, the Treasury and the Minister for Financial Services & Regulation's (Joe Hockey's) Expert Group on Electronic Commerce -- outlines principles designed to establish a standardised mode of operation for Australian businesses connected to the internet.

In a statement issued yesterday, Hockey said the model was designed to "build consumer confidence in Australian e-commerce vendors and, subsequently, Australia's reputation as a place to do business".

The model is also designed to "spell out the responsibilities of businesses that trade online", the statement said.

The release of the model was welcomed by the Australian Consumers' Association, which said of existing levels of service available on the internet: "Clearly, there's loads of room for improvement."

The ACA cited figures from a global e-commerce survey, which found that only 32 per cent of e-businesses currently supply on their website information pertaining to methods of placing complaints and 25 per cent of e-businesses offer no address or telephone contact details on their website.

Additionally, only 14 per cent of e-businesses state on their website that customer information will not be given to third parties without consent. And 73 per cent of online traders fail to provide contract terms, such as guarantees, warranties and exchange/refund information.

Among the e-commerce standards included in the model are:

An "opt-in" approach to commercial email, whereby businesses can only forward email to existing customers and those who have requested it.

A requirement for businesses to make their offline operation easily identifiable via their website.

Clear information posted on business websites explaining online payment methods and security systems.

Adherence to the Privacy Commissioner's National Principles for the Fair Handling of Personal Information in the treatment of customer data.

Website publication of the business's terms and conditions of service.

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