Local, state and federal governments are impacted by ecommerce activities. Local and state governments feel the loss of sales taxes when ecommerce firms don’t properly collect them from their customers. And all elected local, state and federal officials receive complaints from constituents about spam, identity theft, credit card fraud and dishonest product sales. We asked a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist, Elizabeth Oesterle, for her take on the future of government regulation of the ecommerce industry. Oesterle is vice president and government relations council for the National Retail Federation (NRF). Her primary legislative responsibilities with the NRF include banking, sales-tax simplification, technology and consumer privacy.
PeC: As ecommerce sales increase, many experts believe there will inevitably be more government regulation. Do you agree?
OESTERLE: Yes, ecommerce is a “hot” issue for lawmakers. It is new, it is “sexy,” and constituents react well to policy makers who are perceived as protecting them from the “wild west” of the Internet. Unfortunately, just about everyone receives spam and pfishing emails in their in-boxes everyday. We have also all heard the ecommerce “horror stories” involving stolen credit card numbers, identity theft and online auction fraud. Politicians and policy-makers have these same experiences and it drives them to “act.” That action will inevitably lead to more regulation unless the industry takes the time to be proactive and educate decision-makers before any unintended (or intended) damage is done.
PeC: What sorts of increased regulation do you foresee?
OESTERLE: We have seen a proliferation of laws (or proposed legislation) at both the state and federal level aimed at preventing spam and spyware. While no one likes spam or spyware, the industry needs to focus closely on these issues to make sure legislators don’t implicate broad categories of legitimate behavior along with the nefarious behavior. We have also seen a greater focus on privacy issues and interest in what businesses are doing with consumer information.
Further, close to 35 states have enacted data breach notification laws. Readers can read these data breach laws at the National Council of State Legislatures’ website
Moreover, there’s a nonprofit organization, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which lists actual data breaches. That site is here.
We have also seen an up-tick in interest in behavioral marketing and advertising online, particularly by the Federal Trade Commission. Here’s a notice, for example, of a town hall meeting that the FTC is holding to discuss the issue.
PeC: How can an ecommerce business owner monitor new laws and regulations that affect him/her?
OESTERLE: I recommend the National Council of State Legislatures’ website for complete coverage or state laws. and the Federal Trade Commission website to track developments at the federal level, at Ftc.gov.
PeC: Other thoughts on government regulation of ecommerce businesses?
OESTERLE: The Internet is growing up and with that comes the obligation to make sure businesses are following the rules of the road. I encourage all operators of ecommerce sites to get up to speed on the latest rules and regulations, as well as stay engaged in policy discussions in their states and at the national level. Remember you are constituents too! Talk to your state and local representative and to your members of Congress and let learn about your business and why you are an important part of your community.