New ecommerce rules hamper UK ebusiness

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The regulations, based on the European Union’s ecommerce directive, are designed to clarify which information an online service provider must supply to consumers, and detail liability for any unlawful information they unwittingly carry or store.

But members of the Alliance for Electronic Business – a group of industry bodies including the CBI, Intellect, the Direct Marketing Association, e.centre and the Federation of the Electronics Industry – have warned that uncertainty surrounding some key legal aspects could actually damage take up of ecommerce in the UK.

Beatrice Rogers, ebusiness programme manager at Intellect, told VNU News Net that the absence of clear guidelines would cause confusion, particularly among smaller suppliers.

‘The legislation has been written from a legalistic rather than a practical business perspective and is very hard to interpret. It will be a foundation for how ecommerce is done in this country and for small business in particular we’re very concerned that it will put companies off. Anything that creates confusion will be an inhibitor,’ Rogers said.

Whereas other member states have clarified that the courts in the supplier’s home state have jurisdiction, the ‘country of origin’ issue has remained ambiguous in the UK interpretation of the EU directive.

There is also confusion over what services the regulation covers and what information suppliers need to provide to customers on their websites.

Will Roebuck, law and policy executive at e.centre, said the AEB would lobby MPs to overrule the regulations, but he was not hopeful for a positive outcome.

It will also submit a statement to the Department of Trade and Industry this week outlining its concerns.

‘We need certainty, because to develop ecommerce needs the trust of business but also consumers. We are concerned that there is inconsistency with our European neighbours and a lack of clarity will not help build trust and encourage them to trade cross borders.

‘If the regulations are so convoluted, business will ignore them and that’s not good practice for developing ecommerce. This isn’t a problem that is going to go away. If we don’t sort this out, the UK won’t be the best place to do ebusiness,’ Roebuck said.

The DTI declined to comment.

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