BuySafe.com rates e-commerce sites for security and privacy features, and offers merchants that it deems to be up to snuff the option of offering BuySafe's bonding service.

Basically, the service is a guarantee-good for up to $25,000 (around £12,500) and backed by the likes of Liberty Mutual and Travelers Insurance-that the e-tailer will meet all of its obligations on a sale.

BuySafe is a US-only service right now. But that's okay, because it all seems a bit 1999. We can live without it. 

BuySafe must be paid for either by the merchant or by the consumer as an extra-cost option, and seems designed to reassure people about shopping at small, obscure sites. But we're not overly impressed. We've shopped on all sorts of sites for years now (none Buysafe bonded) and have never run into serious trouble.

A more interesting development at BuySafe is a free browser toolbar (though it works only with version 5 or later of IE). The BuySafe Shopping Advisor toolbar provides information on key secure shopping features for all US e-commerce sites (not just BuySafe merchants) that appear in search engine results.

After we installed the beta, some search results on Google, MSN, and Yahoo sported BuySafe ratings in the form of one to four check marks.

The first check mark indicates the presence of SSL Encryption (which shows that a site has an e-commerce component, useful if you're wondering whether a manufacturer sells directly to consumers). A second check mark indicates that BuySafe has detected a privacy policy; a third check mark means that the site is known to use a third-party service to detect security vulnerabilities; and a fourth check mark denotes a BuySafe bonded merchant. In eBay searches, BuySafe-bonded sellers sported seals (but no other ratings.)

Clicking a toolbar button shows the top-rated sites: for example, Shoes.com, Zappos, Victoria's Secret, and Amazon topped the list when we Googled for espadrilles. None is BuySafe-bonded.

A Safe Shopping Results button lets you search BuySafe merchants for the same keywords. But results in my tests suggested skimpy merchandise offerings: with our espadrilles search, the lead item was a Barbie doll with espadrille sandals.

OUR VERDICT

BuySafe might have made sense when e-commerce was young, but in 2008 it seems somewhat anachronistic. There's no rush for a UK-based service.