In the last decade, the E-commerce sector in India has witnessed an unprecedented growth and if numbers are to be believed then ASSOCHAM Resurgent India Study published in January, 2017 reports that in 2016 about 69 million consumers purchased online and the number is expected to shoot upto 100 million consumers by 2017. In view of this unparalleled E-com development, it would be relevant to throw some light on the legal implications confronted by the burgeoning sector.
The ascendancy of E-commerce in today’s highly dominant digital world supersedes over the traditional brick and mortar concept of transaction or buying and selling for the simple reason that any good can be bought and services can be availed from the comfort of home and in a single click. The online shopping sites are overflowing with goods of all kinds from needle to diamonds and E-commerce sites are ensuring luring offers which instantly attract consumers. However, like everything has pros and cons, so does E-commerce. Some of the legal implications and violations which make rights of the consumers vulnerable in this digital world.
Meaning of electronic contract:
An e-contract is a contract modelled, executed and enacted by a software system. Computer programs are used to automate business processes that govern e-contracts. E-contracts can be mapped to inter-related programs, which have to be specified carefully to satisfy the contract requirements. These programs do not have the capabilities to handle complex relationships between parties to an e-contract.
Modes of entering into a contract:
An electronic contract is an agreement created and signed in electronic form — in other words, no paper or other hard copies are used. For example, you write a contract on your computer and email it to a business associate, and the business associate emails it back with an electronic signature indicating acceptance. An e-contract can also be in the form of a Click to Agree contract, commonly used with downloaded software: The user clicks an I Agree button on a page containing the terms of the software license before the transaction can be completed.
In spite of slow progress in the field of artificial intelligence, computer systems are now emerging that can operate not just in an automatic way but autonomously as well. The processes of Artificial Intelligence includes forming intentions, making choices and giving and withholding consent which means humans can give substantial autonomy in decision making which permits computer systems to complete highly complex tasks involving precise judgements. Now the question which arises in our minds is that whether a computer system can replicate the processes that are regarded as free will of the humans and what would be the legal consequences of it. These are the questions which make people apprehensive while entering into a commercial contracts with the aid of a computer system. Contractual rights must be determined with reference to individuals, the need of the hour is to ascertain the whether the existing contract law doctrine can cope with the new laws of technology.
Categorisation of the econtracts can be of two types i.e. web-wrap agreements and shrink-wrap agreements. We often come across these e-contracts in our everyday life but are unaware of the legal complexities connected to it. Web-wrap agreements are web based agreements which requires assent of the party by way of clicking the I agree or I confirm link, for example in case ebay by which we accept the terms and conditions mentioned by the seller. On the other hand Shrink-wrap agreements are those which are accepted by a user when a software is installed from a CD-ROM e.g. Microsoft Office software. Before analysing these concepts we must know how such a contract is entered into, for convenience let us assume the most simple web wrap agreement entered between the buyer and seller through a computer network.
A buyer accesses an autonomous computer controlled by a seller wherein the seller has hosted an item to be sold at a specific price, an interested buyer after satisfying himself makes an order after reading through the terms and conditions of the seller. The computer then checks the availability of the item in its stock and then notifies the buyer that the order has been confirmed and is despatched for its delivery after necessary payment option selected by the buyer. In such a case the actual seller of the goods is unaware about the fact that the transaction has been entered between him and the buyer. The question which arises here is that whether such contracts are valid or not.
Article By Prerna Prakash
Editing By Mahima Gupta