Key E-Commerce Conferences Held in Europe

A wide range of high-level e-commerce leaders met in Paris Monday to discuss the pressing issues that face the industry. Participants at the summit, hosted by the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce (GBDE), included U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley, Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middlehof and a number of other industry players from around the globe.

While the GBDE does not issue or uphold binding laws or agreements, it has emerged as the leading facilitator group for international e-commerce and Internet issues. Among the members of its steering committee are the heads of America Online, Walt Disney Co., IBM, MCI WorldCom, Toshiba, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Deutsche Bank, Bertelsmann, Nokia and DaimlerChrysler.

The group’s chief objective at the Paris summit was to rally countries to sign the treaties passed in 1996 by the World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO) a UN body. Only 10 out of a required 30 nations have signed the agreement, which is a framework for enforcing intellectual property copyrights in cyberspace.

Building Consumer Confidence

The organization’s Consumer Confidence committee made several recommendations for both business communities and governments to keep building on consumers’ growing trust in Internet merchants. The group also heard committee presentations on authentication and security, content and commercial communications, information infrastructure and market access, intellectual property rights, jurisdiction, liability, taxation and tariffs, and protection of personal data.

Among the committee’s recommendations for businesses:

Unified “codes of conduct” that reassure consumers that their personal data will always be protected. Such codes should include a moratorium on spam — unwanted commercial e-mails — and the endorsement of opt-out mailing lists as an alternative.

Third party certification systems that provide seals and trustmarks to confirm that vendors comply with a defined code of conduct.

Specified enforcement provisions that are developed through competition in the market.

A rating system that allows consumers to identify types of sites and content.

Improved access to the Internet for all consumers, not just those in higher income brackets.

Information and education centers for business and consumers regarding the use of the Internet for commercial transactions.

Alternatives to the court systems for resolving e-commerce disputes. The group also voiced its support for an open market for the registration of Internet domain names and condemned cyber-squatting as counter-productive for the industry as a whole.

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Some 600 attendees are expected to gather at the beautiful Swiss city on the banks of Lake Geneva. Industry executives and government officials from the U.S and Europe are among the expected participants.

The participation of American and EU officials signals a minor thaw in the e-commerce freeze between the two entities. Earlier this year, the two failed to implement an accord that would protect American companies from EU online privacy laws. Since the EU passed laws last year that limits the use of personal data by companies, the U.S. has pushed for a relaxation of the proposals.

American companies are not prohibited from gathering personal information to target market products to consumers. The U.S. is pushing its European counterparts to adopt the same system of self-policing, rather than imposing penalties.

The U.S. Commerce Department released a plan late last year that would protect U.S. companies operating in Europe from the EU proposals. However, the two have been at an impasse about details in the proposal.

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