Digitalisation-related phenomena are playing an increasing role in the work of Consumer ombudsman. In addition to operators’ contract terms of subscription and marketing, another key question from the consumer perspective concerns how information security and liability issues have been arranged. Artificial intelligence, robots and algorithms are bringing many positive aspects that are enhancing the position of consumers, but they are also introducing changes that should be taken into account in consumer protection, writes Consumer Ombudsman Päivi Hentunen in her editorial.
Consumer Ombudsman’s Newsletter 3/2017 is theme-based newsletter, which brings together current, digitalisation-related issues and communication services which the Consumer Ombudsman has encountered in her work. The newsletter includes the following articles:
- The data economy needs consumers. In spring 2017, the European Commission arranged a public consultation with the objective of collecting information on themes such as the liability challenges related to the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics. The Consumer Ombudsman participated in the Commission’s consultation, drawing attention to its narrow scope. To gain the trust of consumers, consumer protection issues must be discussed openly.
- Precision in data transmission marketing. Roaming charges became significantly cheaper in the EU area in June 2017. Now consumers pay domestic price or a small additional fee when using mobile devices abroad. As the situation is new, operators must pay special attention to data transmission marketing.The Consumer Ombudsman drew attention to the way in which the use of data via TeliaSonera’s (now Telia) subscriptions while abroad was being marketed last year. The use of subscriptions was advertised carefree without information about limitations of data use.
- Cancellation policy requires revision. The Consumer Ombudsman drew attention to the cancellation policy of Moi Mobiili according to which the customer had no right to withdraw from the contract if the subscription or other service had been activated or taken into use. The Consumer Ombudsman was of the view that the customer did not lose the right to cancel the contract by activating or beginning to use a subscription or other service. However the trader is entitled to demand reasonable compensation for the use of a service, if the consumer used the service before withdrawing from the contract.
- Accurate information in support of those buying a television set. The terrestrial television network will migrate to DVB-T2 transmission technology from 1 April 2020. After the migration, consumers living in antenna households will need a television or set-top box equipped with a DVB-T2 tuner to be able to watch television programmes. In her supervisory letter to appliance traders, the Consumer Ombudsman urged them to ensure that consumers receive accurate and comprehensive information on the features of televisions and set-top boxes being sold, in support of their purchase decisions.
- Difficult terms used in the marketing of mobile subscriptions. On its website, TeliaSonera marketed mobile subscriptions by implying that offer was valid only with the browser the consumer was using. However, the offer was available, using various browsers, to all new customers. In addition, there were problematic claims about price/speed ratio. The Consumer Ombudsman regards it as important that subscription marketing is easy to understand, and not made more difficult by introducing unclear, difficultly understood or false expressions.
- Towards smooth regulation. As a supervisory official, I often encounter the misconception that we supervisors are seeking the most detailed, comprehensive and far-reaching red tape possible, which we never want to abandon once we have it. However, our ideas on the issue are the opposite. In her statements, the Consumer Ombudsman has long highlighted technology-neutral, sustainable, durable and simple regulation. Influencing in EU regulation is essential to simplifying regulation, writes legal adviser Miina Ojajärvi.
- Consumer issues related to the platform economy. Digitalisation has created a wholly new operating environment, in which platforms play a central role. These platforms vary in terms of their size and operating methods, and new alternatives are continually entering the market. This requires that both companies and consumers keep learning anew. When they function in the best possible manner, platforms benefit all of the parties involved, increasing freedom of choice for consumers and enhancing competition. The challenge lies in how to apply the existing legislation in a novel environment. When does a platform function as a seller and when as an agent, and what is its role in marketing?