EU Web Businesses Must Have Phone Numbers or Fast Contact Forms

According to this morning:

Companies have to provide a means of contact on their websites in addition to their postal and email addresses, the European Court of Justice has ruled. A telephone number, or a contact form that is answered within 60 minutes, were deemed acceptable.

This holding flows from the E-Commerce Directive, which says that companies:

“shall render easily, directly and permanently accessible to the recipients of the service and competent authorities, at least the following information:

(a) the name of the service provider;

(b) the geographic address at which the service provider is established;

(c) the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, which allow him to be contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner”.

There has been discussion in various forums whether a web-based business has or should have any physical location or establishment. The EU clearly does not believe in the virtual business, being run for example from a laptop computer that is wherever the physical person is who uses it.

Should we? Would anything in the Internet Sales Harmonization Template [PDF] require a phone number or a fast-acting web form? The ECJ ruling [Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen et al. v deutsche internet versicherung AG] is not limited to consumer transactions, as the Template is. Does it make more sense just to ensure that the customer (consumer or other?) gets the appropriate information, or has remedies accordingly? Or is effective interactive communication a better rule?

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