Many consumers are familiar with marketplace platforms while shopping and making price comparisons. During supervision, however, the Consumer Ombudsman has noticed that the platforms often fail to comply with the basics of consumer protection. Platforms, together with the companies that operate on them, must ensure that the consumers find out the information required by law on the seller of the product, the product being sold, and their own rights. The Consumer Ombudsman has required that Sanoma Media Finland Oy, which maintains the Sähkövertailu.fi and Huuto.net platforms, as well as the Honk Finland Oy, which maintains the Honk.fi platform, make revisions to their services.
“The methods of finding, comparing and purchasing services and products offered by the platforms are welcome in many ways. However, when operating on a platform, the same requirements of the Consumer Protection Act are valid as in all other online sales, and companies cannot go around them by taking advantage of the platform. In addition, the platform administrator is obliged to ensure that the design and functionalities of the platform allow the companies to fulfil their obligations,” says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.
Uncertainty about contracting partners and deficiencies in the information given
With regard to the consumer’s legal status, it is important to know whether the contracting partner is a company or a private individual, because the Consumer Protection Act does not apply to a sale between two private individuals. On the Huuto.net and Honk.fi platforms this information remained unclear. The Consumer Ombudsman required Sanoma Media Finland and Honk Finland to carry out the necessary measures to ensure that the platform users understand clearly with whom they are making a contract.
Furthermore, the Consumer Ombudsman emphasised that Sanoma Media Finland and Honk Finland, together with the seller operating on the platform, are responsible for ensuring that the platforms provide all advance information required by the Consumer Protection Act to consumers. In addition to the name and contact information of the business, this information also includes the consumer product’s main features and total price including tax, the statutory liability for defects, as well the terms, deadlines and procedures related to the right of withdrawal.
The platform must support the clear presentation of the required information
The consumers who used the Sähkövertailu.fi service maintained by Sanoma Media Finland felt that the promises of cheaper prices and precise annual cost estimates did not always come true, and that the information on price received from the service was misleading. Sanoma Media did not accept responsibility for the accuracy of the information given in the comparison; instead, the seller of electricity was solely responsible for the information given about electricity contracts. The Consumer Ombudsman reminded the company about its responsibility as the party maintaining the platform and carrying out marketing and required the company to ensure that the information was presented to the consumer in a manner that was clear and not misleading. The platform must be built so that its design and functionalities make it possible to offer consumer products on the platform in compliance with the consumer protection legislation.
In February 2019, Sanoma Media Finland Oy stated that it would make changes in the services as required by the Consumer Ombudsman in stages, starting in the spring. Honk Finland Oy’s response is expected in early March 2019.
The Consumer Ombudsman has previously dealt with similar issues with regard to the Tori.fi platform of SCM Suomi Oy as well as the Supersaver car rental website of Oy SRG Finland Ab. The companies revised their platform services as required by the Consumer Ombudsman in 2018.
The Consumer Ombudsman’s newsletter 1/2019 (in Finnish) published today discusses the platforms’ liability issues in more detail. In addition, the newsletter discusses problems related to the sale and marketing of smart devices.