Q&A: FTC commissioner says panel is still learning about online exchanges

By Carol Sliwa, Computerworld |  Government

A: In March, we worked with the [Department of Justice] and came out with joint venture guidelines that talk about the various issues involved [in] competitive collaborations among different businesses. I personally think that those guidelines provide a lot of insight for the practitioners in B2B marketplaces about areas to look out for because, in many cases, these marketplaces are essentially joint ventures or collaborations to share innformation or to develop a certain kind of product or whatever.

The FTC is currently investigating B2B marketplaces promoted by the automotive and airline industries. Can you comment on some of the broad issues involved in those two cases?

A: I don't think I really can. But the one thing that I would tell people is that there are some very highly visible and large B2B exchanges that are sort of on the radar screen right now. As I said before, we have found that this is not a one-size-fits all proposition. So I would be very careful [about thinking] that whatever happens on any given [investigation], especially early on, is indicative of how we're going to view everything in the B2B space.

In other words, you don't see these cases as precedent-setting.

A: Right. Not necessarily, because I think that it's still very early on.

Do you foresee the FTC developing any formal policy with regard to online marketplaces?

A: I don't see that right now.

Have you noticed any differences between the B2B and the business-to-consumer issues that come before you?

A: What's really interesting about B2B and B2C is that there's greater convergence to how people are beginning to regard those issues. A lot of people believe that, for example, the idea of consumer privacy is a pure B2C issue and companies [that] are really in the B2B space don't have to worry about it. Well, it's not that [simple]. It's an information practices issue. It's how you gather and use information. And I think that businesses [that] are in the B2B space are beginning to recognize that their customers are asking them, "How are you using my information? Where's it going and what are you doing with it?"

Is there any message you'd like to get across to corporate IT staffers whose companies are jumping into electronic marketplaces, or at least thinking about doing so?

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