Electronic Commerce and Consumer Protection Group

CONTACT: Sydney Rubin
Ignition Strategic Communications
202/244-1162 or 202/244-1200


America Online, AT&T, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Network Solutions and Time Warner Propose Guidelines at Start of Federal Trade Commission Workshop on the Borderless Online Marketplace

WASHINGTON, D.C. – (June 6, 2000) – Seven of the world’s leading Internet and e-commerce companies, assembled as a working group, today proposed guidelines to protect consumers online and inspire global discussion of legal issues related to consumer transactions in the borderless, instantaneous new medium.

The Electronic Commerce and Consumer Protection Group proposed the new "Guidelines for Merchant-to-Consumer Transactions" and a companion "Statement on Global Jurisdiction Framework for Electronic Commerce," at the start of a two-day Federal Trade Commission workshop.

The group includes America Online, AT&T, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Network Solutions and Time Warner. The workshop, attended by policymakers, consumer advocates and business leaders, focused on "Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Transactions in the Borderless Marketplace."

Roger Cochetti, senior vice president for policy at Network Solutions, Inc. and a spokesman for the group at the FTC workshop, said: "The goal of the guidelines is to produce satisfied customers. Consumers should be empowered to deal only with reputable merchants, under terms that make them comfortable and with assurance that any disagreements can be promptly and reasonably resolved."

The release of the guidelines and statement on jurisdiction follows almost nine months of work. The guidelines are a statement about best practices for Web merchants. The companion statement describes how the guidelines were developed, and how they may lead, after further experience, to a permanent framework that both protects consumers and enhances the growth of e-commerce.

"We are proposing a model that can now be evaluated by all companies doing business online, consumers and governments around the world. The guidelines are a contribution to an important global dialogue on how to construct a set of global rules for a global medium," said Ron Plesser, an attorney with Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe who coordinated the work of the E-Commerce Group.

The guidelines contain a broad range of provisions concerning marketing practices, information about goods and services, information about transactions, cancellation, return and refund policies, packaging, security, customer service and/or support, privacy and warranty information.

They also encourage merchants to participate in third-party dispute resolution mechanisms that are fair, timely and affordable. Alternative dispute resolution procedures are not meant to inhibit consumers addressing complaints directly to merchants or interfere with any legal rights of merchants or consumers.

Cochetti told the FTC panel on behalf of the group that because of the global nature of the medium, many Web merchants are faced with complying simultaneously with inconsistent local consumer protection laws, regulations and guides in the multiple jurisdictions where their customers live. Meanwhile, most consumers are unaware of the laws that may apply to a particular merchant in the merchant’s jurisdiction. The guidelines are a step toward setting internationally-recognized industry practices that can give both merchants and consumers comfort and greater certainty.

Experience will help refine the new guidelines and demonstrate how they serve both consumers and businesses.

The new guidelines complement the work being done by the Better Business Bureau and BBBOnLine, which is in the final stages of developing a detailed code of business practices. The E-Commerce Group commends the development of the BBBOnLine code that will help businesses implement the more general standards proposed by the new guidelines. These efforts will also encourage other global efforts to advance industry best practices, such as efforts by the Global Business Dialogue.

For a copy of the guidelines and other information, visit .

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