The European Commission this week launched a new online guide setting out the digital rights that consumers enjoy under EU law.
The ‘eYouGuide’, launched by the Commission in Strasbourg on 5 May, seeks to offer citizens “practical advice” on consumers’ digital rights.
These include rights towards broadband providers, online shopping, downloading music and protecting personal data online, particularly when using social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.
The eYouGuide tells online shoppers that they have the right to:
- Clear information about prices and conditions before making a purchase;
- Decide if and how their personal data is treated;
- Have goods delivered within thirty days of purchase;
- A minimum ‘cooling-off’ period of seven working days after purchase for consumers to change their mind.
- Protection against rogue vendors, and unfair contractual terms and commercial practices.
The Commission hopes that giving consumers clear information about their rights “will increase trust and help unlock the full economic potential of Europe’s single online market, worth €106 billion in revenues”.
“The screen is the new marketplace,” said EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, warning that “the online single market will only be a success for business if consumers have confidence in the online environment”.
According to the EU executive, “consumers can be sure that all these rights apply” on the three million websites ending with the suffix ‘.eu’. All such sites must be registered by a person or company established in the EU, and they are subject to the bloc’s laws.
Consumers ‘worried’ about online shopping
Nevertheless, “lots of consumers are put off buying goods on the Internet. They are worried that goods purchased online won’t be delivered or will be faulty, and they don’t know what to do if there are problems,” said Commissioner Kuneva. “The guide clarifies all of these aspects.”
Despite welcoming the guide’s launch, the European Digital Media Association (EdiMa) warned that “the presence of different rules and regulations across Europe hampers cross-border consumer confidence and can be difficult for users to understand and navigate”.
‘Digital Agenda’ launched
Addressing these concerns, the Commission’s consumer affairs and information society departments this week launched a ‘Digital Agenda’ for consumer rights.
The eight-point plan aims to establish “multi-territorial licensing regimes” for digital content like music and films, end the fragmentation of laws on private copying of copyrighted content, improve privacy policies, boost confidence in online payments and combat spam, among others.
"If we want consumers to shop around and exploit the potential of digital communications, then we need to give them confidence that their rights are guaranteed," said EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva.
"That means putting in place and enforcing clear consumer rights that meet the high standards that already exist in the high street. The Internet has everything to offer consumers, but we need to build trust so that people can shop around with peace of mind," she said.
Outlining the thinking behind the new site, Kuneva explained that "confidence and trust is Europe's new currency, and knowledge is crucial to raising consumer confidence in the online world".
"In the EU, consumer rights online should not depend on where a company or website is based. National borders should no longer complicate European consumers' lives when they go online to buy a book or download a song," said EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. "In spite of progress made, we need to ensure that there is a single market for consumers as well as businesses on the web."
Addressing the issue of spam emails, Reding continued: "Spam is forbidden by European law. If you don't want spam, you shouldn't receive it. But we know very well that this is not being put into practice, and that's why the guide gives you practical tips on what to do to avoid spam."
Czech centre-right MEP Zuzana Roithová, the Parliament's rapporteur for a 2007 resolution on eCommerce in which the proposal first surfaced, said: "Internet users are not always aware of their rights in the digital world, or what is allowed and what is not. Sometimes they come across a website which provides them a service under illegal conditions."
"The increase in confidence of Internet users in digital services will increase eCommerce business. So far, only 6% of consumers within the EU make cross-border purchases," Roithová said.
"I am also happy that the Commission followed my recommendations and is also focusing on the protection of children on the Internet. There are various forms of abuse and it is our duty to protect our children from the potential wrong use of the Internet. In my experience in the Czech Republic, lots of parents want to know about potential dangers for their children," she added.
Welcoming the guide's launch, the European Digital Media Association (EdiMa) said in a statement that it "supports measures aimed at promoting online consumer confidence and applauds the Commission for its initiative in developing this tool to facilitate awareness for European Internet users of their rights and obligations".
"Consumer confidence is key to maintaining a vibrant cross-border online market and ensuring that consumers benefit from the diversity of goods and services provided by new media," said EDiMA President Andrew Cecil.
"Clarifying and informing users of their on-line rights and obligations helps build trust and the Commission should be applauded for its initiative," Cecil added.
Consumer groups also welcomed the initiative. "For too long, consumers have faced a host of problems in the digital environment. The 'Digital Agenda' highlights challenging areas for consumers, such as territorial discrimination, the lack of consumer protection when it comes to digital products and unfair privacy policies, where legislation is urgently needed to ensure consumer confidence online," said Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, the European consumer organsisation.
"Actions speak louder than words, so BEUC and its members will work hard to ensure the Commission continues what it has started and takes effective measures on these priority areas," she concluded.
Paul Skehan, Director of European Retail Round Table (ERRT), said: “RFID will enable retailers to offer significant benefits for consumers – fewer stock shortages, faster shopping, greater security concerning the origin and authenticity of products, easier returns and warranties…and publication of the recommendation today will allow more retailers to invest in this new technology."
Tuesday's launch of the 'eYouGuide' was the result of demands contained in a European Parliament resolution on eCommerce adopted in 2007.
A recent Eurobarometer survey found that although 48.5% of EU households have broadband Internet connections, a "lack of confidence" is still preventing many consumers from making online transactions.
Indeed, the survey found that just 12% of EU web users feel safe making transactions online, while 39% of have "major doubts" about safety and 42% "do not dare" to carry out financial transactions online.
65% of European web users do not know where to get information and advice about cross-border shopping in the EU, it revealed.
A third of consumers would consider buying online from another country because it is cheaper or better, but only 7% actually do so, the Eurobarometer found.
EU official documents
- European Parliament:Resolution of 21 June 2007 on consumer confidence in the digital environment [FR] [FR] [DE]
- European CommissionConfidence in the Information Society(Eurobarometer; May 2009 - Summary) (Analytical Report)
- European Commission:eYouGuide(Portal)
- European Commission:Consumer Rights: Commission wants consumers to surf the web without borders(Press release; 5 May 2009) [FR] [FR] [DE]
- European Commission:.eu: three years on, three million domain names(Press release; 3 April 2009) [FR] [FR] [DE]
- EPP-ED:eYouGuide - EU to help protect internet users. Zuzana Roithová MEP(Press release; 5 May 2009)
Business & Industry
- EdiMA:EDiMA welcomes the European Commission’s ‘eYouGuide’ and efforts to promote consumer confidence online(Press release; 6 May 2009)
- European Retail Round Table:Retailers welcome RFID guidelines call on member states to adopt same approach(Press release; 12 May 2009)
- EPC Global:GS1 EPCglobal Response to European Commission’s “RFID Privacy and Data Protection Recommendation”(Press release; 12 May 2009)
- EuroCommerce:EuroCommerce welcomes RFID recommendation with reservations(Press release; 12 May 2009)
NGOs and Think-Tanks
- BEUC:The Commission’s 'Digital Agenda' highlights gaps in consumer protection laws online(Press release; 5 May 2009)