On 19 July, the European Parliament published an own-initiative Report tackling the issues related to addictive design of online services and consumer protection in the EU Single Market. The draft Report proposed by MEP Kim Van Sparrentak (Greens/EFA, the Netherlands) singles out a series of practices, which in her eyes must be eliminated or at least toned down due to their negative effects on the mental health of people and children.
The draft Report employs a blanket approach to all digital services and makes no distinction between the specificities of different online websites, apps or other necessary functionalities for marketplaces and online platforms. While for the most part the report takes issue with social media services, the Rapporteur does not spare e-Commerce platforms and their practices.
Since the presentation of the draft Report in July, MEPs have also set out a series of amendments which they would like to see incorporated in the final report. The draft own-initiative Report, and the amendments propose the following:
- Banning interaction-based recommender systems.
- Dark patterns and other personalised manipulative techniques should be prohibited, and the European Commission should impose neutral/ fair design obligations.
- Current EU legislation should consider the unequal relationship in terms of power between trader and consumer.
- Reversing the burden of proof on traders to demonstrate compliance.
- Establish a new right for consumers to contest new design features if they feel that they are addictive and thus unfair.
However, there are some voices in the European Parliament which disagree with these assessments and consider them to be either too radical or premature given the parallel discussions taking place. For example, some of the amendments proposed by MEPs that disagree with the Rapporteur suggest making distinctions between different categories of online services, eliminating the idea of banning interaction-based recommender systems and not excessively legislating. It would be rash to call on the Commission to produce new legislation, ban practices, or impose obligations given that the Digital Services Act has barely started taking effect, the AI Act is still under discussions and the Better Internet for Kids Strategy has only recently been presented. These ideas are aligned with our own set of Recommendations we sent to the European Parliament in mid-September.
The discussion on this file is very relevant in the current context given that the European Commission is conducting its Digital Fairness – Fitness Check of EU Consumer Law. Given this, it is therefore important to keep a watchful eye on what is the positioning of the European Parliament in light of the ongoing discussions. For the coming period we would highlight a series of key dates:
- the draft Report is likely to be adopted during November/ December at both Committee and Plenary level.
- the Commission aims to discuss the aforementioned subjects on 30 November at its 3rd Annual Digital Consumer Event.
Finally, it is evident that for the time being both the European Parliament and Commission will be busy with reviewing consumer law and practices by digital platforms. We at Ecommerce Europe will be continuing our efforts to engage with policymakers and informing them about our members’ initiatives, the work that they do and their overall contribution to the economic sector.