Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Geraint Howells, Iain Ramsay, Thomas Wihelmsson and David Kraft
Patrick Quirk and John A. Rothchild* 1. Introduction One consequence of the ever-closer integration of the Internet with our everyday lives is that more and more consumer transactions are being accomplished using online communications. The proportion of consumer transactions that are made using the Internet is currently small, but is increasing rapidly. According to the US Census Bureau, in the second quarter of 2007 electronic commerce represented 3.3 percent of all retail trade; but e-commerce has been increasing consistently at an annual rate of more than 20 percent, while total retail sales have been increasing at a far lower rate.1 In principle, consumer protection in connection with online transactions is no different from consumer protection in connection with transactions accomplished through the older methods of communication – face-to-face, or using catalogues, direct mail, or telephone. After all, if a seller engages in false advertising, it is a violation of consumer protection laws regardless of whether he communicates to the consumer in person, via broadcast media, by mail or telephone, or on a website, in an e-mail, or in an online auction posting. Nevertheless, the growth of electronic commerce does present some novel issues relating to consumer protection. For one thing, the Internet lowers the barriers to entry of those who aspire to engage in fraudulent or deceptive commercial conduct. In comparison to creating a bricks-and-mortar storefront, it is cheap and easy to set up a website or other online presence. There are lowcost options for marketing one’s products online, such as...
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