Towards Smarter Consumer Protection Rules for the Digital Society
Amidst the increasing digitisation of all aspects of our daily lives, consumer protection rules should be extended to all digital services, regardless of whether consumers pay a price or provide data to access those services. This is one of the key findings of a new CERRE report, which makes a number of recommendations to help decision-makers develop a better and more integrated framework for the protection of consumers.
Rules for electronic communications, information society and audiovisual media services are currently under revision as part of the wider Digital Single Market reforms. Against this background, authors Professor Alexandre de Streel (University of Namur) and Professor Anne-Lise Sibony (UC Louvain) warn that:
- Technology and market developments have left some of the current rules outdated;
- Some sector-specific rules overlap with more recently adopted horizontal rules;
- And some rules – including recent horizontal rules – are not ‘smart’ enough and do not take into account recent technological development, nor the latest research on consumer behaviour.
In an attempt to address those issues, the report makes a number of specific recommendations:
Horizontal consumer protection rules need to be smarter:
- An emphasis must be put on improving consumers’ digital literacy;
- Consumer protection rules should be extended to all digital services, regardless of whether the consumer pays for the service;
- Alternative means of regulation, such as self and co-regulation, should be considered as a means to developing future-proof solutions;
- Disclosure regulations – a cornerstone of EU consumer protection rules – must be better tailored to actual, rather than assumed, consumer behaviour;
- Consumer protection agencies could go even further and explore the advantages and disadvantages of personalising disclosure rules.
Enforcement of the rules needs to be more effective:
- National consumer protection agencies must be well-resourced, independent and able to impose sanctions when needed;
- These agencies should also cooperate at a national level with other relevant agencies (e.g. data protection agencies), and should cooperate amongst themselves and the Commission at a European level;
- Consumers themselves should be made more aware of their rights and should have easier means of securing damages when those rights are harmed;
- ‘Consumer protection by design’ – with protection rules embedded in the computer code itself – should be further explored.
- Service-specific consumer protection rules need to be more streamlined, and sector-specific rules which are covered by general, horizontal rules should be removed.