Website charter revamped to restore trust

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The Independent Online

The Department for Trade and Industry is considering re-designing TrustUK, a government-backed hallmark for internet websites, following a string of accusations that it is not independent.

The Department for Trade and Industry is considering re-designing TrustUK, a government-backed hallmark for internet websites, following a string of accusations that it is not independent.

Officials at the DTI have asked Clicksure, a rival accreditation company, to join TrustUK to advise how to overhaul the service.

The launch of TrustUK by consumer minister Kim Howells in July, was marred when MPs and accreditation companies, including Clicksure, attacked the hallmark. They claimed that the members of TrustUK had a commercial conflict of interest. The concern focused on the Consumers' Association, which operates its own accreditation system, Which? Web Trader, a direct rival to Clicksure.

Phil Hendey, director of marketing at Clicksure, said: "We have responded to the DTI and said that unless the conflict issue is resolved then we can't help them. On the face of it, TrustUK is still a closed shop."

Mr Hendey, who was speaking from America where he is accrediting the website of Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, added that he would like to see the role of the Consumers' Association diluted. "It has simply too much power over TrustUK," he said.

Since its launch, TrustUK has accredited just three websites, two operated by its own members and only one independent site run by the Association of British Travel Agents.

The row is an embarrassment to Tony Blair, who earlier this year trumpeted Britain's e-commerce credentials. The idea of TrustUK was first mooted in an influential Cabinet Office report, which was endorsed by Mr Blair.

The DTI claims that it is happy with the accreditation system. A spokesman said: "We support TrustUK and are confident that its committee is independent." It denied that it was planning to make any significant changes to TrustUK.

As well as the Consumers' Association, TrustUK is backed by the Alliance for Electronic Business and the Direct Marketing Association.

One of the first critics of the hallmark was Labour MP Derek Wyatt who accused the Consumers' Association of "sitting on both sides of the fence". Mr Wyatt sits on Clicksure's independent advisory council.

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