Virtual Jet Lag

by David G. Propson

With the Web, it’s easier than ever to do business internationally – and it’s still pretty darn hard. Even when the technological hurdles are removed, there are still many differences in culture, law, and economics to overcome. Many businesses are only now encountering these problems.

Subtle differences in culture can cause miscommunications, and sometimes these are codified into law, which every business ­ even one operating from another country ­ must follow. European countries, for instance, require much stricter privacy policies than the laissez-faire U.S. does. Some of these laws may strike outsiders as simply bizarre: Greece prohibits the advertising of toys.

Most online businesses have thought they were beyond the reach of other countries’ courts. But that’s changing. In May, a French court ruled that Yahoo had violated French law by allowing Nazi paraphernalia to be sold through its auction site. The company had already barred such material from its French-language site, but was told it must figure out how to prevent French citizens from viewing these auctions on any of the other sites ­ plain-old, for instance ­ as well. Yahoo says the technology of the Internet doesn’t permit them to be certain where visitors are actually located. Determined French users can always make it look like they’re coming from someplace else.

But unless a way is found to tailor sites to each country’s customs, Yahoo and everyone else doing business on the Internet could be forced to make each site comply with the laws of every country whose citizens might use it. That nagging feeling you had was right: As the world gets smaller, the headaches get bigg er.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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