Companies Announce E-Commerce Standards

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Seven high-tech companies yesterday proposed international rules governing e-commerce that are designed to solve disputes over online purchases.

The core of the proposal is the creation of a third party, or a "global jurisdictional framework for electronic commerce," to handle disputes via e-mail when problems occur during transactions. Resolutions will be nonbinding, and both the consumer and the company would have the right to settle disputes in court. Online resolutions would cut compliance costs and increase choice and competition, the companies said.

The group of companies -- America Online, AT&T, Dell, IBM, Network Solutions, Microsoft and Time Warner -- proposed that e-tailers adopt guidelines that call for full disclosure of the terms of sale, an opportunity to review the transaction and a chance to discuss all costs involved in the transaction and shipping process.

The guidelines also set standards for policies on cancellations, returns, refunds, packaging, support, warranty and privacy, as well as for disclosure of customer service policy.

The model guidelines were released at the start of a two-day Federal Trade Commission workshop after nine months of preparation.

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