Consumer protection in international electronic contracts
Since the Internet became available for commercial use in the early 90s, the way of doing business was changed forever. The Internet and electronic commerce have allowed people to carry out business by means of electronic communications, which makes it possible for them to do business and to conclude contracts with people situated within foreign jurisdictions. The need for consumer protection in electronic commerce has become necessary because of the misuse of aspects peculiar to electronic–commerce. Consumers have been cautious to make use of electroniccommerce, as they are uncertain about the consequences that their actions might have. Consumers will only utilise e–commerce if they have confidence in the legal system regulating it; therefore, legislation was needed to regulate their e–commerce activities. In 2002, the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002 was introduced into South African law as the first piece of legislation that would deal exclusively with electronic communications. Chapter VII of this particular act deals exclusively with consumer protection and seeks to remove certain uncertainties imposed by e–commerce. This is done by providing the South African consumer with statutory rights and obligations when engaging in electronic communications. The Consumer Protection Act, 68 of 2008 is the most recent piece of legislation that aims to promote a consistent legislative and enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements. South African legislation dealing with electronic commerce is relatively recent, and it is uncertain whether consumers are offered sufficient protection when they conclude contracts with suppliers or sellers from a foreign jurisdiction, that is, one that is situated outside South Africa. After looking at the protection mechanisms in place for South African consumers engaging in e–commerce, we have seen that there are certain problems that one might experience when trying to determine the applicability of some of the consumer protection measures to international electronic contracts. Most of the problems that we have identified are practical of nature. Consumers may, for instance, find it hard to execute their rights against foreign suppliers in a South African court, even if the court has jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter. Another problem that we identified is that some of the important terms in our legislation are too vaguely defined. Vague terms and definitions can lead to legal uncertainty, as consumers might find it hard to understand the ambit of the acts, and to determine the applicability thereof on their transactions. In order to look for possible solutions for South Africa, the author referred to the legal position with regards to consumer protections in the United Kingdom, and saw the important role that European Union legislation plays when determining the legal position regarding consumer protection in the UK. The legislation in the UK dealing with consumer protection is far more specific than the South African legislation dealing with same. There is definitely consumer protection legislation in place in South Africa but the ongoing technological changes in the electronic commerce milieu make it necessary for our legislators to review consumer protection legislation on a regular basis to ensure that it offers sufficient protection for South African consumers engaging in international electronic contracts.
- ETD@PUK 
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