BBBOnLine Inc. serves as the Better Business Bureau of the Web. Since its inception in the summer of 1996, it has operated as a subsidiary of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Browsers visiting BBBOnLine can search for information on specific companies, view consumer guides, file complaints, and ask for assistance with dispute resolution. This advocate for fair and ethical online business practices also helps consumers to locate member businesses. It accomplishes this by offering two Web site seals to companies that are willing to make public their status with the Better Business Bureau.
Web sites with the BBBOnLine Reliability Seal—introduced in April 1997—are operated by companies that hold current membership with their local business bureau, meet certain truth in advertising standards, and adhere to a set of customer service policies similar to those required for brick and mortar businesses affiliated with the Better Business Bureau. By clicking on the seal, online shoppers are able to view a company's record with the Better Business Bureau, as well as information about location and ownership. By March of 2001, the reliability seal had been issued to 9,480 companies including eToys, CDNow, eBay, and Travelocity.
The BBBOnLine Privacy Seal, created in March 1999, is issued to businesses that meet certain criteria with regard to how they gather, process, and protect the personal information of online customers. To qualify for the seal, a site must disclose in its privacy statement what information is being gathered, where it may be used in the future, and whether or not a customer has any control over that use. Prior to issuing the seal, BBBOnLine also reviews the site in question to determine if its security measures are sufficient. Within two years of its inception, the privacy seal had been granted to nearly 800 firms including AT&T Corp., Hewlett-Packard, New York Times Co., and Dun & Bradstreet Corp.
BBBOnLine also issues its Kid's Privacy Seal to qualified online businesses targeting children under the age of 13. Companies must complete the necessary steps for obtaining a regular privacy seal. Additionally, they must meet the criteria established by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, along with standards set forth by the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the Online Privacy Alliance, and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. These requirements include obtaining permission from parents before their children disclose certain personal information or communicate with other users, using clear language to issue notices or cautions, gathering only information deemed absolutely necessary, and monitoring links to other sites.
Along with helping consumers in their dealings with online businesses, BBBOnLine also helps businesses regulate themselves. In October of 2000, BBBOnLine established the Code of Online Business Practices to offer guidance to companies engaged in e-commerce. This code covers five major issues:
- satisfying customers by responding to queries and addressing concerns promptly
- using both advertising and the technology driving the advertising for honest and accurate dissemination of information
- readily disclosing information about the merchandise or services being sold, as well as the online transaction itself
- protecting the personal information of customers and honoring their requests to be taken off mailing lists
- and following the CARU Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children's Advertising when marketing products or services to children under 13 years of age.
Sites displaying the reliability seal must begin following the code by September of 2001.
BBBOnLine Inc. "About BBBOnLine." Arlington, VA: BBBOnLine Inc., 2001. Available from bbbonline.org.
Bennefield, Robin M. "BBB Online: A Seal with Teeth." U.S. News & World Report. March 3, 1997.
Enos, Lori. "Consumer Watchdog Unveils Net Conduct Code." E-Commerce Times. October 25, 2000. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com
SEE ALSO: Authentication; Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986; Digital Certificate; Fraud, Internet; Privacy: Issues, Policies, Statements; Secure Electronic Transactions (SEC)