Ecommerce Europe participated in BEUC’s event on Digital Fairness

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On 27 September, Ecommerce Europe participated in an event organised by the European umbrella organisation for consumers, BEUC, on consumer protection in the digital age. The full-day conference was very timely, as the upcoming European Commission’s annual Work Programme is expected to include further initiatives on Digital Fairness currently considered by the EU executive. While the event addressed these issues from the consumer perspective, Ecommerce Europe proposes, in this article, some comments to provide further arguments to expand the scope of the discussions.

The event opened on the concept of structural “digital asymmetry” between the consumer and the online trader, which BEUC brought forth in its report released in May 2021 and which the European Commission picked up on in its behavioural study on Dark Patterns (May 2022). Stressing the policy implications of such state, Hans-W. Micklitz, one of the authors of BEUC’s paper, stated that the current definition of “vulnerable consumer” was unfit to protect consumers online. Similarly, in her keynote speech, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stated that the horizontal role played by the digital world in our life called for adjusted rules to address structural unbalances of power before abuses take place, clearly referring to the soon applicable Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA).

The panel discussion following these comments, featuring Commission’s Blanca Rodriguez-Galindo (head of Unit at DG JUST’s Consumer and marketing law) and European Parliaments René Repasi (S&D, Germany) as well as Ecommerce Europe’s Léon Mölenberg, among others, focussed on current flaws of consumer rights and potential enforcement issues. While some panellists maintained that updating the unfair commercial practices list would not be enough to respond to the current challenges, Ecommerce Europe believes that this would allow for legal certainty, in which businesses can flourish and comply with the rules. Ecommerce Europe argues that, in the context of the ongoing Fitness Check on EU consumer law, the legal framework for consumer protection currently in force, covering a wide range of topics, from data protection to commercial communication, generally already addresses the issues that were raised. However, an investigation needs to be conducted to find out why the rules are not having the desired effect. This could for instance have to do with a fragmented approach to enforcement or a lack of resources at authorities. Moreover, the pending evaluation of the EU consumer law acquis that is being carried out needs to consider the channel neutrality aspect of legislation.

Some stakeholders touched upon the reversal of the burden of the proof with regards to certain aspects of consumer protection. In this regard, Commission officer Galindo underlined that the Fitness Check would adopt an “open-minded approach” by exploring all possible policy options and aiming to reduce administration costs. Ecommerce Europe will monitor the developments to make sure that businesses will not be overburdened by disproportionately stringent obligations.

The conference also tackled ongoing debates on regulating Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well as the data economy overall. Both panels commented the issues from a consumer-centred perspective, thrashing out consumer rights under the ongoing EU files, such as the AI Act, the AI Liability Act as well as the Data Act. Points of concern remained the scope of the rules, their future-proofing, the distribution of responsibility across the complex supply chain, as well as new rules’ impact on innovation and further technological take-up by EU companies. Finally, the fourth and last panel brought up the topic of enforcement related to consumer protection. Panellists generally agreed in welcoming the new tasks that the Commission took up as an enforcer in the latest EU tech regulations. Ecommerce Europe equally applauds new forms of enforcement which are expected to harmonise the regulatory landscape and provide legal clarity for businesses.

As the voice of the European digital commerce sector, Ecommerce Europe is closely following the discussions and making sure that traders’ views are represented through the process. You can find more details in our position paper.

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