Free! CDs, PCs, books, cars, chairs, whatever…

But you can only have them for a week, says UK ecommerce minister

UK ecommerce minister Kim Howells has unveiled government proposals that will see Internet traders sent to jail if they fail to make consumers aware of their rights. And for good reason since the proposals will also give purchasers the right to change their mind within seven days. Called the Distance Selling Directive, the paper forms part of the government's 'confident consumers' programme which forms part of the ongoing push for ecommerce. For a purchase to be completed it will have to need to be confirmed in writing, contain a seven-day cooling off period and be completed within 30 days. It will also look at legal powers against spam email. This is a good deal for ecommerce since distance buying is very much a matter of trust, and it will shift power back to the consumer. But with the consumer able to withdraw from the contract for any reason, unscrupulous individuals may be tempted to use the new rights as a way of trying out products for free for a week. 'Hire' a camcorder for a wedding or 'tire' of a particular CD, the law's on your side. Not that the idea is new. Argos has been offering a similar service but with an extended 28-day return policy for years. That's why this reporter's friends are still certain there is the top-of-the-range Formula One Scalextric somewhere about the house. Ahem... ®

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