Consumer protection

Updates

On the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore, the Economic Ministers of the delegate countries signed the ASEAN Agreement on e-Commerce, which is part of the implementation of the ASEAN Work Programme on Electronic Commerce 2017-2025. The agreement aims to facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions and promote confidence in the use of e-commerce in the region to drive economic growth and social development. It comprises commitments on the fields of cybersecurity, data localization and data flows, ensuring that companies and consumers can easily access and move data across borders, without the need to “build expensive and unnecessarily redundant data centres in every market”. The agreement also contains provisions on online consumer protection, personal data protection alternative online dispute resolution mechanisms for e-commerce transactions. In parallel, the ASEAN summit also welcomed the endorsement of the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework, which identifies the economic benefits and challenges posed by digital integration for ASEAN and its Member States, with particular attention to MSMEs.

Recently, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration requested public comments on how to improve consumer privacy, especially in regard to online platforms. The Motion Pictures Association of America’s (MPAA) comments, addressed the burning issue of WHOIS records and protection of privacy in line with the GDPR. The MPAA once again emphasised the concerns of many copyright holders due to hiding WHOIS details. The association stated that such an approach is disabling law enforcement, as well as copyright holders in detecting and preventing various types of crimes online The MPAA also stated that public WHOIS data is important for the very protection of consumers. The organisation believes that this information needs to be public in order to enable consumers to verify website information, so they can see if they can trust websites.

Irish consumer protection commission has published the new guide that should help online business to meet their obligations in this field. The focus of this guide is in interpretation of Consumer Rights Directive and it was created as result of survey conducted over 200 companies. The biggest discrepancies in interpretation were in refund policy, right of consumers to cancellation, return of their purchase, time-frames for exercising rights, etc. All of these concerns and many others are clarified in this guide.

During the press briefing, European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, announced that a preliminary antitrust investigation over Amazon has been opened in order to gather information about ways the company uses data. More specifically, it aims to examine how the company uses data that it gathers through transactions and from sellers on their marketplace, as well as to see if that data potentially gives Amazon a competitive advantage over merchants by having an insight into consumer behaviour. Questionnaires have been sent to merchants in order to ‘get the full picture’, however Vestager underlined: ‘We are at very early days, there are no conclusions yet, and the case has not been formally open yet.’ The media reports that the Amazon refused to comment.

Airbnb has announced that it will work on implementation of improved Terms and Conditions in order to better inform consumer about its prices. This actions followed after presentation of its terms and conditions at meeting of EU consumers protection authorities and  EU Commission, where these bodies requested from Airbnb to give proposal until end of August how will align its terms and conditions with EU consumers protection legislation. Amnog other, these change are related to Airbnb to clearly present prices including all additional fees, making it clear if host is private person on professional, clearly presenting all remedies and legal actions to consumers, etc. These changes need to be implemented by the end of 2018.

FCC Chairman stated that big web companies like Facebook, Google etc need to be more transparent in their work. In his blog he specifically addressed algorithms that these companies are using, the way how they treat personal data of users and how they are affecting online speech. He emphasized the importance of public to know these fact and to be well informed about them, mentioning transparency obligation/legislation as one of the manner to ensure that.

Consumer trust is one of the main preconditions for the success of e-commerce. E-commerce is still relatively new and consumers are not as confident with it as with real-world shopping. Consumer protection is an important legal method for developing trust in e-commerce. E-commerce regulation should protect customers in a number of areas, such as online handling of payment card information; misleading advertising; delivery of defective products.

 

A new idiosyncrasy of e-commerce is the internationalisation of consumer protection, which is not a vital issue in traditional commerce. In the past, consumers rarely needed international protection. Consumers were buying locally and therefore needed local customer protection. With e-commerce, an increasing number of transactions take place across international borders.

Jurisdiction is a significant issue surrounding consumer protection. It involves two main approaches. The first favours the seller (mainly e-business) and is a country-of-origin/prescribed-by-seller approach. In this scenario, e-commerce companies have the advantage of relying on a predictable and well-known legal environment. The other approach, which favours the customer, is a country-of-destination approach.

The main disadvantage for e-commerce companies is the potential for exposure to a wide variety of legal jurisdictions. One possible solution to this dilemma is a more intensive harmonisation of consumer protection rules, making the question of jurisdiction less relevant. As with other e-commerce issues, the OECD assumed the lead by adopting the 1999 Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of E-commerce and the 2003 Guidelines for Protecting Consumers from Fraudulent and Deceptive Commercial Practices Across Borders. The main principles established by the OECD are still valid and have been adopted by other business associations, including the International Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The EU offers a high level of e-commerce consumer protection and promotes awareness campaigns on online shopping issues. The problem of jurisdiction has been solved via the Brussels I Regulation, which stipulates that consumers will always have recourse to local legal protection. The recast Brussels I Regulation, applicable as of January 2015, further harmonises the rules of jurisdiction by extending the situations under which individuals not domiciled in the EU can be sued by consumers in the courts of EU member states.

More than half of EU consumers (53%) made at least one purchase online in the 12 months to September 2012, almost doubling since 2006. Yet just 15% purchased online from vendors outside their own country. This is reflected in the confidence rating: while 53% feel comfortable purchasing from online domestic retailers, only 36% feel comfortable buying online from another EU country.

At global level, no apposite international legal instruments have been established. One of the most apt, the 1980 UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, does not cover consumer contracts and consumer protection.

A number of private associations and non-governmental organisations also focus on consumer e-commerce protection, including Consumers International, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network, and Consumer Reports WebWatch.

The future development of e-commerce will require either the harmonisation of national laws or a new international regime for e-commerce customer protection.

Events

Actors

(OECD)

Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation t

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Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation to the challenges this phenomenon brings on traditional markets, and the need for adequate policy and regulatory frameworks to address them. In 2008, the organisation issued a set of policy guidelines for regulators to take into account when addressing challenges posed by convergence. In 2016, a report issued in preparation for the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy included new recommendations for policy-makers. Digital convergence issues have been on the agenda of OECD Ministerial meetings since 2008, and are also tackled in the regular OECD Digital Economy Outlook report.

(CI)

Consumers International undertakes several activities focusing on promoting consumer protection in the digital

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Consumers International undertakes several activities focusing on promoting consumer protection in the digital environment and creating a #BetterDigitalWorld. In 2016, it published a report on Connection and Protection in the Digital Age, discussing the extent to which existing consumer protection frameworks can address challenges brought by new technologies such as the Internet of Things. In March 2017, it submitted a series of recommendations to G20 member states on Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust. The organisation also contributed to the elaboration of the ISO 12812 Core banking – mobile financial services standard, and elaborated a briefing paper on mobile payments.

(EU)

In establishing its digital single market, the EU has progressively developed a dense 

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In establishing its digital single market, the EU has progressively developed a dense copyright legislation corresponding to a set of ten directives, which harmonise essential rights of authors, performers, producers and broadcasters. To ensure EU copyright rules are fit for the digital age, the European Commission has recently presented legislative proposals to modernise the EU legal framework, in order to allow more cross-border access to content online and wider opportunities to use copyrighted materials in education, research and cultural heritage; and have a better functioning copyright marketplace.

(ICPEN)

ICPEN carries out several activities and initiatives related to consumers’ protection in the online environmen

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ICPEN carries out several activities and initiatives related to consumers’ protection in the online environment. The Network’s website contains a series of recommendation for staying safe while buying and selling online, especially with regard to sharing personal and financial information online. It also provides advice on how consumers can resolve cross-border disputes related to online transactions and what entities they can refer to. The econsumer.gov platform was launched by ICPEN with the aim to provide individuals with the possibility to file complaints about cross-border fraud transactions and learn about dispute resolution mechanisms.

(ICC)

ICC engages in the WTO particularly representing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

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ICC engages in the WTO particularly representing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). In 2016 ICC issued a report calling for a new WTO agreement on e-commerce. ICC’s objective is to have an e-commerce framework that is more open to MSMEs. The report recommends three main actions: a capacity building fund for SMEs; making trade more efficient for SME for instance through harmonised tariffs for low value items; and global rules to support consumer trust in the digital economy. ICC has also carried out research on trans-border data flows.

(UNCTAD)

UNCTAD is very active in the field of e-commerce.

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UNCTAD is very active in the field of e-commerce. It assists developing countries in developing e-commerce legislation, through its e-Commerce and Law Reform Programme. The entity has launched the eTrade for All initiative, aimed to improving the ability of developing countries to use and benefit from e-commerce.  As part of its ICT Policy Review Programme, UNCTAD undertakes reviews, research, and analysis on e-commerce-related issues. It also reviews national policies and provides policy advice to countries on areas such as developing e-commerce strategies and devising measures to strengthen e-commerce. UNCTAD holds an annual E-Commerce Week, featuring events focusing on specific policy areas of e-commerce.

Resources

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Personal Data Storage in Russia (2015)

Reports

Virtual Currencies and Beyond: Initial Considerations (2016)
Report on OTT Services (2016)
2015 In Retrospect (Vol. 4) (2016)
OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 (2015)

GIP event reports

Protecting human rights in public policy: What role for business? (2018)
Electronic Commerce and Inclusiveness of Global Value Chains (2018)

Processes

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13th IGF 2018

UNCTAD 2018

WSIS Forum 2018

WTO Public Forum 2017

IGF 2015

 

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