Shopping Online? How Are These Electronic Transactions Regulated under South African Law?

When a consumer shops online, the consumer is, in essence,  interacting with electronic agents (there is no human being accepting your request to “check out”). Section 20 and 22 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (ECTA) give legal effect to online transactions.

Section 20 of the ECTA deals with automated transactions. Section 20 (a) - (c) sets out instances where an agreement may be formed with an electronic agent. Section 20 (d) and (e) set out circumstances where no agreement would be formed between a consumer and an electronic agent (which functions behind the scenes on an online store). 

Section 22(1) of the ECTA gives online transactions legal force and effect despite the fact that they may be concluded (either wholly or partly) electronically (through data messages). Section 22(2) states that an agreement is formed between parties at the time when and place where the acceptance of the offer was received by the offeror. Also notable is Section 24 on expression of intent (or other statement), which has legal force and effect if it is in the form of a data message.

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