Friday, November 19, 1999

BBB Requests Input on Proposed Online Code

The Better Business Bureau, through its BBBOnline entity, seems to have finally realized that it can leverage its name in the online world to provide basic auditing over online business. Just as a company may display the Better Business Bureau seal on their advertising to tell customers to expect a certain level of service, online business may soon have the same opportunity to display a seal whose source indicates an updated set of guidelines tailored to business on the internet through the BBBOnline Code of Online Business Practices.

The BBB seems to have realized that they cannot account for all situations, and have asked for commentary on their draft. While the code is supposed to apply to all ecommerce models, including online auctions and charity sites, there are no specific provisions geared toward those models. Feel free to peruse their draft. December 30, 1999 is the deadline for comment on the proposed code.

The draft includes five main principles that the BBB expects sites to adhere to in order to display the seal:

  1. Disclose! Disclose! Disclose! Online businesses shall disclose to their customers and prospective customers, clearly, conspicuously, and in easy-to-understand language, accurate information about the business, any goods or services offered through an online transaction, and, if applicable, the transaction itself. Full details.
  2. Tell the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth! Online businesses shall not engage in deceptive or misleading trade practices with regard to any aspect of electronic commerce, including advertising and marketing, or in their use of technology. Full details.
  3. Have Respectful Information Practices! Online businesses shall adopt information practices that are respectful of the consumer's concerns and treat the information with care. They shall post and adhere to a privacy policy based on fair information principles, take appropriate measures to provide adequate security, and respect consumer's preferences regarding unsolicited email. Full details.
  4. Aim to Please! Online businesses shall make online shopping a positive consumer experience and shall seek to resolve disputes that are raised by their customers, clients, or licensees in a timely and responsive manner. Full details.
  5. Take Special Care with Children! If online businesses target children under the age of 13, they shall take special care to protect them. Full details.

There are three free regional (US) conferences for people to comment on the code. They are December 1, 1999 in Denver, December 2 in Palo Alto, and December 9 in Washington D.C.

Because of the BBB's name and reputation in the brick and mortar world, many consumers may come to expect to see a BBB seal over time. The only way to guarantee that the seal has any value is if we as web developers take the time to comment on it. We need to ensure that their guidelines are both reasonable and attainable, otherwise we're the only ones to blame if they aren't. When your newest client expects you to post the seal on the site you build, you had better be sure that you and the client agree with, and will support, the requirements to display that seal.

You can visit the site to read about the current BBBOnline seals. The three they currently have are the Reliability Seal, the Privacy Seal, and the Kid's Privacy Seal. Eligibility requirements are linked from each description.

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