Gov’t intervention in internet transactions

    1325

    THE onset of the worldwide epidemic of COVID-19 this year has accentuated the need to go online in many of our day-to-day activities. Paying bills, deposits and withdrawals in the banking system, ordering food and drinks, buying groceries and other needs, conducting meetings and seminars, consulting with the doctor, working in the office — these mundane tasks have transitioned from the usual physical activities to the virtual.

    Unfortunately, the physical, sleight-of-hand and other face-to-face rackets in the market have metamorphosed, too, into even more cunning scams in cyberspace. Reports from social and traditional media have confirmed that both sellers and buyers of goods and services have been victimized by the scammers.

    The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) maintains several units to deal with complaints from consumers. In 2019, the DTI received 2,457 such consumer-related complaints, and it is safe to assume that the department was able to act favorably on at least 50 percent of these complaints.

    ‘The measure was introduced precisely to address the problems of consumers who have been forced to use online transactions because of quarantine protocols imposed by the government…’

    Meanwhile, Valenzuela City Rep. Wesley Gatchalian reported that from January to October this year — during the height of the pandemic — the number of complaints received by DTI surged by 600 percent, or 14,869 for this period. The solon said the three top issues raised by the consumers were violation of the Price Act, delivery of defective products, and deceptive business practices.

    There is now, filed in the House of Representatives, House Bill 7805 or the Internet Transactions Act. The measure was introduced precisely to address the problems of consumers who have been forced to use online transactions because of quarantine protocols imposed by the government in the wake of the pandemic. Gatchalian, chairman of the House committee on trade and industry, and Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin are the principal authors of the bill.

    The proposed measure seeks to guarantee honesty and fairness and put an end to fraudulent transactions in the internet. It proposes to create an e-commerce bureau and endorses strict compliance to a Code of Conduct among all businesses using e-commerce. The code will ensure equal application of rights of consumers and their treatment with “honesty, integrity and fairness at all times.”

    One interesting provision of this bill is the right to redress by online merchants and ride-hailing service providers, who are sometimes victimized by bogus buyers and pranksters. The lawmakers proposed that no rider or delivery service personnel will be allowed to cancel confirmed orders if such have been paid in full. However, it shall be unlawful for consumers to unreasonably “shame, demean, embarrass or humiliate” ride-hailing partners.

    As e-commerce has become a dominant sector of the economy, there is indeed a need to pass a law that will provide protection for all players in the market, particularly the consumers.