Teetering on the edge

Jane Dudman reviews the myriad security schemes being launched to bolster consumer confidence in online transactions

Jane Dudman reviews the myriad security schemes being launched to bolster consumer confidence in online transactions

Bolstering public confidence in online transactions has become a major focus of the security market. The result is a dizzying range of schemes that differ in their practical details, but that all have the same aim of improving consumer confidence in using online systems.

Recent initiatives in this area include the approval of accreditation criteria by the government-backed TrustUK scheme, which oversees trade associations' codes of online conduct, the publication of draft guiding principles by the European Commission's e-Confidence Forum and guidelines from the Global Business Dialogue for Electronic Commerce, to ensure comparable levels of protection among competing Trustmark schemes.

It seems that protecting customers online has become a growth industry in its own right, making it tough for online traders to pick the protection scheme that will best suit them and their customers. One of the difficulties is that organisations look at the problem in different ways. IT company Unisys, for instance, is talking to a leading UK standards organisation about setting up an information security audit scheme. The emphasis will be on online protection, but from an overall security management standpoint.

In contrast, an organisation such as the Consumers' Association, with its Which? WebTrader scheme, which has been approved by TrustUK (see box, Confidence boosters), is more focused on the commercial aspects of online transactions. There are also a number of commercial organisations, such as German company Trusted Shops and Oxford-based Clicksure, which are competing with one another and with government-backed schemes to provide online security codes and systems. Jean Marc Noel, CEO of Trusted Shops, which charges merchants a fixed fee, plus a percentage of online transactions, says the Internet is over-regulated, but consumers still get a rough deal.

"As consumers, you have rights, but to enforce them can cost as much as £1,500 and can take up to two years," he says. "We feel we have to provide not just a seal of approval, but a guarantee that consumers will get their money back if they don't get their goods." Noel says that while any scheme backed by the Government is important, the TrustUK scheme, launched last July, has not provided the lead in this area for which online companies are looking. "TrustUK has failed to catch on and we feel it needs greater industry-wide marketing," he says.

Even E-commerce minister, Patricia Hewitt, speaking at a Trade and Industry Select Committee in December, conceded that the scheme has yet to prove its worth. "The next stage is really to get much more publicity for TrustUK, so that we get more code owners wanting to become part of TrustUK, but also crucially so that we get much more consumer awareness."

Roger Till, a director of e centre UK, which is one of the members of the Alliance for Electronic Business that jointly backs TrustUK, also acknowledges that progress has been slow. So far, only three trade associations' codes of online conduct have been approved by the scheme. But Till says it is important to get the right processes in place and that moves are being made by the Alliance to extend the TrustUK model into Europe. "A national scheme is a good start but e-commerce is global, so we are looking at extending the model and then the average SME trying to sell on the Web will have a focal point," comments Till.

So far, no single online security scheme has managed to capture the really big names in the market. A survey published at the end of 2000 by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests UK consumers and e-tailers are paying the price, with e-commerce in the UK being held back because of users' fears about online security.

Confidence boosters: online security schemes try to assuage consumer fears

BS 7799: The British Standards Institution's (BSI) standard for information security, backed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Aimed at overall security management in 10 specific areas, including online trading.

www.clicksure.com : Commercial scheme, launched in 1999, based on providing a Clicksure Mark, paid for by etailers which reach a specific set of criteria, known as the Confidence Standard for Electronic Business.

www.securityatwork.org.uk : Launched in November 2000 by the DTI as part of its Management of Information Programme, for electronic companies working on developing systems to improve security and privacy. Includes a guide to network security and e-commerce protection.

www.trustuk.org.uk : Launched in July 2000 as a joint, non-profit-making venture between the Consumers' Association and the Alliance for Electronic Business. Endorsed by the UK Government, it provides approval of trade associations' codes of conduct. So far, three codes have been approved: the Consumers' Association's www.which.net/webtrader/code_of_practice.html; the Association of British Travel www.abtanet.comm, and the Direct Marketing Alliance's www.dma.org.uk code of conduct for its members.

www.trustedshops.de: Launched in November 2000 in the UK. A commercial scheme that provides a seal of approval, plus a money-back guarantee for consumers, paid for by the online merchants. Endorsed by the European Commission as part of its Ten Telecom scheme.

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