|Dear Mr. Wroblewski,
Thank you for the opportunity to sit on a panel of the Federal Trade Commissions B2B Workshop.
The very last question of our panel, supplier-side perspectives, concerned the role of the middleman. As was pointed out by my fellow panelist, Hal Loevy, the issue of trust between e-commerce partners is a serious concern, and can be an impediment to the future growth of the electronic marketplace.
He pointed out that middlemen can often play the role of the trusted third party, obtaining and verifying the bonafides of the participants. But this is an area where government currently plays a role, and there is an opportunity to latch onto emerging technology to maintain that role in ensuring fair trade in the electronic marketplace.
I am speaking specifically here of weights and measures. Since the beginning of trade, the problem of determining and reporting honest weights and measures has vexed buyers and sellers. At this time, there are authorities at the local, state, ferederal, and even international level whose duty it is to ensure fair and honest weighing and measuring equipment and practices. But their influence ends at the point of sale. Once a transaction leaves the equipment, there is no way to prevent errors, misrepresentation, or intenional fraud.
Encorporating an electronic signing device into the measuring equipment provides the solution. Now, any recipient of the data may determine that the mesurements were performed at the time stated, adhering to accepted procedures, with the stated equipment, which was sealed by the stated inspector, and that nothing in the record has been altered since that time.
With the passage of the Electronic Signatures Act, the hope is that more commerce will find its way to the Internet, as people come to trust the authenticity of the communications they receive. All an electronic signature tells you, however, is that the document has not been altered since it was sent by the signatory. With a signing device, on the other hand, the recipient knows that the document is an accurate description of an event that actually took place. And they have it on the authority of a trusted inspector.
In this way, we can build trust in the marketplace, even where the participants are not familiar with each other. Which is the essence of electronic commerce.