This page considers certification mechanisms and challenges,
in particular the use of online trustmarks (aka webseals).
Certification is typically provided by industry associations
or by commercial bodies that may -
formal standards for business practice or articulate
a broader code of practice
adherence to those standards or codes
that the activity of organisations is consistent with
the particular standard or code and therefore entitles
them s to use a 'trust
mark' (aka a seal), thus offering a frame of reference
offer an ombudsman scheme (aka ADR
scheme) for dealing with disputes.
Business Bureau Online (BBBO),
the website of the US Better Business Bureau (a commercial
body), provides information about the BBB's Reliability
and Privacy seals. It
is believed to cover around 10,000 sites.
In November 2000 it unveiled the BBB Code of Online
Business Practice, based on principles of "truthful
and accurate communications, disclosure, information practices
and security, customer satisfaction, and protecting children".
Critics were quick to comment that resounding declarations
of principle are one thing, day to day implementation
by etailers and enforcement by the BBB is another.
Its major rivals are TRUSTe
- a body supported by IBM, Microsoft and the Electronic
Frontier Foundation (EFF)
- and VeriSign.
TRUSTe has faced considerable criticism. Although its
motto is "Building A Web You Can Believe In"
consumer trust was not encouraged when it savaged Microsoft
with a wet lettuce after privacy breaches and its failure
to do much when Disney-backed etailer Toysmart
crashed back to earth and began trying to market its clickstream
database. It is believed to cover around 2,000 sites.
An example of criticisms is Natalie Regoli's 2002 Federal
Communications Law Journal paper Indecent Exposures
in an Electronic Regime (PDF).
and Public Eye
are US commercial bodies running merchant rating services.
Netcheck Commerce Bureau (Netcheck)
provides complaint and dispute resolution services in
The Better Cyber Bureau (BCB),
again US-based, promotes ethical business standards through
the BCB Seal.
The Better Internet Bureau Association (BIBA)
offers quality assurance services.
The US Electronic Commerce & Consumer Protection Group
Group) - noted earlier in this guide - includes America
Online, AT&T, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Network Solutions,
and AOL Time Warner.
The nature of those codes varies considerably - most cover
matters such as privacy and the handling of online financial
transactions. Their enforcement is uncertain, with TRUSTe
for example recently facing criticism over its response
to privacy breaches by the RealNetworks online music company
and the CDT's
July 1999 report
Behind the Numbers: Privacy Practices on the Web
highlighting problems with self-regulation. Early in 2000
Comet Systems, with 60,000 clients, faced class-action
litigation after alleged undisclosed tracking of millions
of consumers. We've highlighted more recent developments
However, if you're buying online from a vendor that you
don't know, the seal gives you some indication of reliability
and some scope for redress if things go wrong.
local industry representatives
Australian certification schemes appear to have been
ineffective, due to lack of resources for marketing and
compliance and to poor consumer awareness.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants licenses members
under the global WebTrust
The Internet Industry Association (IIA)
is initiating a privacy practices seals program for members.
We've explored questions about trust and credibility
later in this guide,
highlighting empirical studies and regulatory activity.
There's a more detailed examination
of privacy statements and seals in our Privacy guide,
supplemented by an analysis of trustmarks.