Multinationals call for self-regulation of e-commerce

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PARIS--Multinational execs have called on governmentsworldwide to take a hands-off approach to regulation of electronic commerce and on-line advertising.

The call for business-led self-regulation was made in Paris ata meeting of the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce(GBDe), an international forum that aims to reach an industryconsensus on how to regulate e-commerce.

While industry leaders do not oppose government efforts to crackdown on sites distributing child pornography, racist tracts orcriminal activity, the GBDe opposes any efforts to apply domesticlegislation to foreign-sourced commercial communications content,essentially advertising and marketing.

The GBDe suggests that the "country-of-origin principle" shouldapply to online advertising. "Companies would forego online, cross-border sales" if they are obliged to conform to legislation ineach country-of-destination, warned Sanford Litvack, senior exec VPand chief of corporate operations for Walt Disney Co.

A GBDe position paper suggests the country-of-origin approach becoupled with "voluntary codes of conduct to promote responsibleonline advertising and marketing," such as a series of guidelinesfor advertising in cyberspace drafted by the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce.

Lucio Stanca, president of IBM Europe, pointed out that the company has already implemented such a code, and that it has withdrawnadvertising from 10 Web sites in the last few months that failed toguarantee privacy and personal data protection for Internet users.

The GBDe also supports creation of an "opt-out system" that wouldallow consumers to refuse unsolicited direct marketing via e-mail.

Representatives of direct marketing associations in Europe, Japanand North America cautioned the GBDe on this last point, pointingout that industry-wide codes of conduct already exist and that existing national consumer protection legislation should prevail foron-line direct marketing.

The main message of the GBDe initiative, according to Thomas Middelhoff, chairman-CEO of Germany's Bertelsmann AG, is that "electroniccommerce can only function if there are global standards," but "nothing will slow the development of electronic commerce more than a patchwork of conflicting rules established at the national level."

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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