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Copyright 2004 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.
The era of e-commerce dawned 10 years ago with the purchase of a compact disc of Sting's music, and experts gathered Tuesday for a panel discussion sponsored by Americans for a Secure Internet to discuss the successes of the past and the challenges of the future. According to Forrester Research, online shoppers spent more than $32 billion online in the third quarter of 2004. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Holiday online sales, meanwhile, have increased 21 percent since 2003, according to the Commerce Department, and now account for 2 percent of all retail sales. Since its inception, said Steve DelBianco, the executive director for the NetChoice Coalition, “e-commerce has encountered many problems.” Concerns over secure credit transactions and privacy dominated the early e-commerce days, he said, but the industry met those challenges. Now concerns such as fraud, viruses, unsolicited commercial e-mail known as spam, and “phishing” that involves phony but official-looking e-mail scams have surfaced, DelBianco said. A federal law that imposed limits on spam and established penalties against such conduct took effect in January, yet more than 50 percent of all e-mail is spam, according to NetChoice. In October alone, furthermore, the Anti-Phishing Working Group reported that 44 different corporate brands were the target of phishing scams. But DelBianco predicted that once again “consumers and business will drive” change to secure the Internet. And Dave Stewart, the vice president of VeriSign, said, “In spite of the threat, consumers are still getting online to make purchases.” E-commerce sites are working to reinforce the commitment to keep consumers safe, panelists at the event said. The eBay online auction site, for instance, “does do quite a bit to ensure there is trust on its site” by implementing safety features and systems to check for fraud, said Hillary Brill, legislative counsel for the company. She added that since its launch in 1995, eBay has evolved to “become an enabler for small business.” EBay has 125 million registered users and more than 340 million items currently listed online, Brill said. “This wouldn't have worked if people were afraid to do business” on the site. Wayne Crews, vice president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the best way to deter or stop online hazards has not yet been found. Speaking of the federal anti-spam law, he added, “Legislation doesn't always work.” The government's role in securing the Internet for commerce is not clear at this point, the panelists said. Its current role of imposing penalties and enforcing laws is important, Stewart said, but “how that evolves over time should be a collaborative effort.” While it is appropriate for government to protect its own networks, Crew said, “we do have an open Internet and we need to be careful.”