Service and ownership location can be fundamental selection factors for online users. The importance of confidence in the UK's digital economy was highlighted in the Digital Britain Report (2009) and more recently in the Cabinet Office's Cyber Security Strategy of the United Kingdom/Fact Sheet on Cyber Security and EURIM's Can Society Afford to Rely on Security by Afterthought Not Design?. Building trust in the .UK brand is a necessary part of a healthy competitive economy.
Hand-in-hand with creating "the best place to do online business", the UK needs to increase visibility of the geographical properties of its online organisations. I wonder if in time, we will have more "country of origin" information, like the security labelling mentioned on Friday, to help users (employees, customers, clients, and citizens) make informed choices about who they will share information with and buy products & services from.
A ruling last week by the EU Court of Justice suggests that companies directing their activities at foreign consumers, will affect where they can take legal action, or have legal action taken against them. "Directing" may include using a domain name of another country, using a .com domain name, quoting international contact details, mentioning country names (e.g. delivery rates) or offering country/lanuague options.
We have already seen moves to ensure .uk domains are not used for criminal activities, but is the domain name enough? No. Without getting jingoistic, as the ruling indicates, there are all sorts of additional geographical properties that affect users' rights and the ability for governments to enforce legislation. An equivalent to the "Security Facts" label might be "Location Facts":
where "GB" is the ISO 3166-1-alpha-2 code for the United Kingdom. In the example on the left, the application is hosted in Germany and has some data transfers to the United States because of web analytics, SSL verification and inline advertisement code hosted there. Of course, the situation can be complex, and in a single label it can be difficult to describe all the important geographical properties, but let's at least try. Knowing the locations of each element of the supply chain is less relevant to the end user than the details above.
These two examples are just made up to emphasize the possibilities and are not meant to be xenophobic in any way. Consumers, and other web product users, should be able to find out who they may be interacting with and the scope for redress in the event of a problem, so they can make their own choice? This is no different to having the place of origin on food product labelling.
This quotation from the forward by James Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, to the British Retail Consortium's new guide on Principles on Country of Origin Information couldn't explain it better:
Championing the practices of the best performers and bringing others into line will reduce confusion and ensure improvements in both the quality and consistency of origin information for all consumers.
It would seem to be as appropriate for web products too. Of course, there are many other issues that affect user trust—jurisdiction being just one.
Can we trust self-labelling? Well for consumers, the Advertising Standards Authority's remit will include digital assets like web sites from 1st March 2011. Honesty plays a big part too, but consumer groups (e.g. the Confidence Code for energy comparison web sites) have some punch, and trade associations could develop standards for their members. Ultimately, the power of markets and groups of individuals would hopefully keep other organisations in check.