Fear and confusion handicaps UK e-commerce

Government urged to 'get its act together' and address the public crisis of faith in the Internet

The UK public has lost faith in shopping online according to a report released by the National Consumer Council (NCC) Wednesday. The NCC has called upon the government to "get its act together" if it's serious about e-Britain.

The report, which surveyed 2000 individuals, says consumers believe credit card details are not secure online, and are ignorant of their legal rights. Over half of Internet users asked say handing over their credit card details online is risky.

Report author Alison Hopkins believes the recent spate of security blunders by big name organisations like Powergen and Barclays have had a negative impact on consumer confidence.

"We were surprised by how much the people we interviewed could remember about companies who failed to keep their customers' personal details secure," says Hopkins. "If a big national company like Powergen can't get it right, people wonder how the little guys will manage."

Hopkins believes these high-profile blunders play most on the minds of those yet to go online and argues they discourage them from doing so.

A single trademark standard guaranteeing the security of a site was suggested by a large proportion of those questioned. Hopkins gave a cautious welcome to the recently launched TrustUK initiative, but feels that its powers don't go far enough to rebuild consumer confidence.

"We'd really like to see a central clearing house for Internet complaints and queries," she comments. "Currently, the public don't know where to go."

The report found that consumers were widely ignorant of their legal rights when an online transaction does goes wrong. Hopkins calls on the government to take the lead in a campaign to educate and reassure the public, and to back up its stated intentions with action.

"If the government really wants Britain to be at the forefront of the Internet revolution, then it has got to get its act together. There have been plenty of press releases, but the man on the street needs to see some activity," she says.

Computer security experts concerned at the number and frequency of recent security episodes say these events highlight a need for some sort of large-scale industry rethink.

Brian Gladman, ex-Ministry of Defence security consultant and author of a recent report into Internet banking -- Electronic Commerce: Who Carries the Risk of Fraud? -- calls for individual companies to be more responsible toward security.

"Even the world's experts in security realise that they can make mistakes," says Gladman. "With a security system where a lot of people's money is at stake it doesn't seem unreasonable to have independent security testing."

Head of digital services at the Consumer Association Alan Stevens says that with a constant focus on online services, institutions need to be ultra cautious or confidence will continue to suffer.

"The accumulation of these things is beginning to have a damaging effect," he adds. "The industry as a whole will suffer as a result of this."

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