Dispute Resolution

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As with any form of commerce, disputes between two parties engaged in e-commerce arise from time to time. As the number of online businesses grew throughout the 1990s, so did the need for online dispute resolution. As a result, several organizations began responding to this need, among them BBBOn-line, ICANN, eResolution.com, and the Online Om-buds Office.

In some cases, a consumer may seek dispute resolution services regarding a complaint it has with an online business. One option for such an individual is BBBOnLine. The Council of Better Business Bureaus, an advocate for fair and ethical business practices, decided to broaden its scope to include e-commerce in the summer of 1996, when it founded BBBOnLine Inc. to operate as the Better Business Bureau of the World Wide Web. Along with offering information on specific companies and consumer guides, the site also allows visitors to seek help with dispute resolution by filing four types of complaints: general complaints about both BBB members and non-members, as well as both online and traditional businesses; complaints regarding new vehicles, which are handled by a program called BBB Auto Line; complaints about charitable groups, which are handled by the BBB Philanthropic Advisory Service; and complaints about the use of personal information, which are handled by the BBBOnline Privacy program.

Those seeking dispute resolution regarding Internet domain names, or site addresses, can turn to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization that oversees domain name distribution, as well as the assignation of other identifiers that differentiate one Web site from another. ICANN replaced IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), a government entity that had been created by the Internet Society and Federal Network Council to handle the assignment of domain names and other Internet protocol. The Clinton Administration had decided in July of 1997 that the increasing number of clashes surrounding domain name ownership warranted the creation of a standard international policy regarding domain name assignation and dispute resolution procedures. This led the U.S. Department of Commerce to facilitate the creation of ICANN, a private, non-profit association run by Dr. Jon Postel, in 1998.

In 2000, ICANN accredited eResolution.com as one of four official domain name dispute resolution services providers in the world. A leading online dispute resolution services provider, eResolution also offers three additional services: arbitration, which is legally binding; mediation, which is voluntary; and keyword dispute resolution, offered in conjunction with RealNames Corp., a provider of keywords (a relatively new alternative to traditional domain names).

The Online Ombuds Office serves both individuals and institutions seeking online assistance with dispute resolution. The site was created in June of 1996. When the Hewlett Foundation and the Department of Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts decided to fund the creation of the Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution of the University of Massachusetts in June of 1997, the Online Ombuds Office began operating as the dispute resolution unit of the new center. The site offers both general resources and a dispute form, which can be completed and submitted by visitors wishing to handle dispute resolution procedures via the Internet. In early 1999, auction giant eBay.com asked the Online Ombuds Office to provide mediation services for its bidders and sellers. As a result, eBay created a link to the dispute resolution site in mid-March. Within two weeks, more than 150 requests for dispute resolution services were logged. Having verified the need for such a service, eBay hired SquareTrade, a San Francisco, California-based online dispute resolution services provider founded in 1999, via a two-year contract starting in August of 2000.

As methods for conducting business online continued to evolve, dispute resolution services for specific types of online endeavors also emerged. For example, a firm named WebMediate began offering online dispute resolution services to business-to-business marketplaces like GoTradeSeafood.com. The need for these types of specialized services will more than likely increase as e-commerce continues to grow and evolve.


"About BBBOnLine." Arlington, VA: BBBOnLine Inc., 2001. Available from www.bbbonline.org.

"About ICANN." Marina del Rey, CA: Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, 2001. Available from www.icann.org.

Enos, Lori. "Consumer Watchdog Unveils Net Conduct Code." E-Commerce Times. October 25, 2000. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

"SquareTrade to Serve As eBay's Exclusive Provider of Online Dispute Resolution." Business Wire. August 2, 2000.

SEE ALSO: BBBOnline; ICANN (Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers)----