How are consumers one step away from AI services but much further away from fully trusting the online market?
Lately, consumer-related researches and regulations have demonstrated that the digital world is not just a safe and happy place to live in. Think about social media, geo-blocking and online shopping. While big tech companies are already investing heavily in the commercial uses of artificial intelligence (AI) - developed to a great extent thanks to the consumers’ data - it seems that something as simple as shopping online across the EU is far from being a hassle-free experience for consumers. In the race between industry and institutions to establish a true Digital Single Market, consumers are often the ones left behind.
Social media platforms still not fully respecting EU consumer protection rules
Recently, the changes made by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to align their terms of services with EU consumer protection rules have been published. If it’s true that these changes will be beneficial for the European social media users, Vera Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: "As social media networks are used as advertising and commercial platforms, they must fully respect consumer rules […] it is unacceptable that this is still not complete and it is taking so much time”.
Shopping online in the EU…
Earlier this month, a new EU law banned geo-blocking for e-commerce. Great, isn’t it? As soon as the regulation will enter into force, consumers will be able to shop across borders at the same conditions that before were granted only if they were purchasing from the trader’s country. This is however a semi-solution for geo-blocking discrimination because this new EU law does not cover online services involving content protected by copyright. Consumers who want to access TV programmes, films, eBooks and video games from different countries within the EU will still be geo-blocked.
…and outside the EU
In November 2017, BEUC and German consumer group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (vzbv) commissioned an analysis of the experience of EU consumers when shopping online on the global online marketplace.
The research shows that although more and more Europeans shop online, their trust in the market outside the EU remains low. This is because consumers lack information and have no clear way out when something goes wrong after a purchase. According to BEUC and vzbv, more information should be available to consumers and the EU’s alternative dispute resolution system could be opened up to traders from third countries.
A new deal for consumers?
All these examples point to the same direction: action is needed. Consumers are not able to access justice and to join forces to confront powerful companies.
When it comes to market surveillance, enforcement and redress, the EU simply can’t let its guard down. The New Deal for Consumers, a revision of the EU consumer directives that will be presented on 11 April, is an important initiative that will aim to adapt consumer rules to today's global trends and business practices.
One of its cornerstones should be to make it easier for consumers to get redress in case of mass harm situations. It should also include an extension of consumer rights to cover online services where consumers pay with their personal data for a digital service and more harmonised enforcement measures to protect consumers affected by the same practice in different countries. Consumer organisations from across the EU hold high expectations for the New Deal, hopefully it will help fill the gap between new technologies and consumer protection.