Consumers must have effective consumer protections when shopping on the Internet. Advertisements should be truthful and provide complete information necessary to make an informed choice. Purchase decisions should be deliberate and documented. Products and services should be required to be as represented. Payment should be secure and consumers' risk of financial loss limited. If anything goes wrong, consumers should have recourse and opportunity for redress. The goals for a consumer protection framework in global electronic commerce should be to foster justified consumer confidence, fair competition, and economic development around the world. Consumers expect at least the same level of protections in the virtual marketplace as they currently have in the real marketplace.
Information technology, especially the electronic network known as the World Wide Web, is changing the way that businesses and consumers interact. This expansive electronic network allows both businesses and consumers to transcend global barriers, gaining access to products and information in ways that were once unimaginable. However, travelling outside the realm of the terrestrial marketplace with its commercial and geographic restraints can also mean moving in an unpredictable environment without the security that traditional marketplace practices and consumer protection laws provide.
Disputes over jurisdiction in cyberspace have led to increased interest in the role of contracts to define rights in transactions involving sellers and consumers. However, policy makers should be wary of measures that permit sellers to enforce unreasonable contract terms. Various "click on" type contracts used in web pages today are often one-sided measures that unfairly would limit consumer rights in a wide range of areas, including the rights to benefit from exceptions and limitations of copyright, the right to criticize products, the right to offer competing products, the right to seek redress for defective products or service, and many other important consumer rights.
The EU and the US should support the establishment of minimum standards in electronic commerce, including the simplification of contracts, means for cancellation, effective complaint mechanisms, limits on consumer liability, non-enforceability of unreasonable contract provisions, recourse at least to the laws and courts of their home country, and cooperation among governments in support of legal redress. Such minimal standards should provide a functional equivalence to current safeguards offering at least the same levels of protection that would be afforded in the off-line world.