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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The protection of the online consumer through online dispute resolution and other models of redress Schulze Suedhoff, Ulrich

Abstract

Traditional redress mechanisms such as litigation and traditional alternative dispute resolution generally fail to strengthen consumer confidence in e-commerce. Rather they may represent an additional source of uncertainty. In particular litigation fails to offer the certainty the consumer seeks. To date, neither European nor American courts have found reliable criteria for determining Internet jurisdiction and have failed to provide consistency in their decisions. In addition, uncertainty arising from unclear concepts on the enforcement level and the high volume of disputes with low monetary value have led to the development of online ADR providers that allow individuals from across the world to settle disputes. Both online mediation and online arbitration serve consumers as appropriate instruments to enforce their rights arising out of online disputes. They are designed for disputes with small monetary value and are capable of overcoming jurisdictional obstacles. On the enforcement level, online arbitration based on the New York Convention provides the consumer with a powerful tool on global level. Online consumer arbitration can ensure a maximum of enforceability if the consumer arbitration rules of online ADR providers incorporate the requirements of the New York Convention. In addition or instead of online ADR, businesses increasingly rely on other dispute avoidance and dispute settlement instruments in order to promote consumer confidence. Some of those models employed by e-commerce companies succeed in promoting trust, while others do so only to a limited extent. In particular, mandatory credit card chargeback regimes give consumers an effective and quick means of disputing a transaction with a merchant at almost no cost. On the other hand, escrow services seem to be less appropriate for the typical small amount e-commerce transaction mainly since consumers are generally not willing to pay the added costs for the use of the escrow service for the average small amount transaction. Trustmark and seal programs provide the potential to give guidance to the consumer about consumer protection standards of the online seller before any damage is done and offer effective and inexpensive certification, monitoring and enforcement procedures. However, to date trustmark and seal systems have applied these powerful tools only to a limited extent. A proliferation of trustmark and seal programs make it hard for consumers to distinguish between differences in the programs and to assess their quality. Rating and feedback systems provide an immediate and inexpensive source of information to buyers about sellers and a strong incentive for good performance to repeat sellers. These systems are prone to abuse and information gathered through these systems is often unreliable. In my thesis I argue that traditional litigation no longer provides the most appropriate means of dispute settlement in the case of small amount crossborder consumer transactions. Neither do traditional ADR mechanisms provide the most convenient and efficient method of settling online consumer disputes. Online ADR and several other models of redress successfully replace traditional mechanisms since they better meet the challenges of online disputes and live up to recognised consumer protection principles. I argue that online arbitration based on international arbitration law such as the New York Convention presents a particularly viable instrument for the settlement of the average smallamount online consumer disputes. After having sketched the jurisdictional hurdles for the resolution of online disputes I analyse whether both online ADR and other trust-creating models are capable of providing an efficient and fair redress instrument for the consumer. For this purpose, the practises and policies of online dispute resolution providers are mirrored in recognised consumer protection principles and the international legal framework. Likewise the potential and limits of other trust-creating models are explored under the question of to what extent they serve the consumer as a viable instrument to impose her rights. The guiding questions of this evaluation will be if and to what extent these recently evolved institutions meet - according to their policies and practises - the challenges set up by the particularities of online consumer transactions.

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