EU consumer protection authorities discovered irregularities in telecom companies’ online shops

The online shops of four of Finland’s largest telecom companies have given consumers misleading information. This was the result of a joint sweep by the EU Consumer Authorities in November 2017 when the websites of 207 telecom companies were checked. The Consumer Ombudsman has required Elisa, DNA, Moi Mobiili and Telia Finland to correct the inadequacies.

The EU Consumer Protection Authorities made a joint sweep of telecom companies’ online shop websites in November 2017, checking whether the consumers were given the information required by the harmonised EU legislation.

The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman checked the major products of Finland’s largest telecom operator’s online shops, that is, one mobile phone subscription and mobile broadband subscription. Shops were checked both on a PC and a mobile device, because more and more consumers use mobile devices for purchases. The irregularities were related to the sales processes of mobile phone and mobile broadband subscriptions and which information is given to consumers in the sales process and at which stage.

Proper online sales processes

It is important that when consumers buy a mobile phone or a mobile broadband subscription online, they get the correct information at the right time in clear and unambiguous manner. The irregularities detected by the Consumer Ombudsman in the sweep were particularly related to the information given to consumers during online sales processes.

It is typical that a mobile phone subscription is marketed to consumers for a fixed monthly package price. However, this package price does not usually include calls to corporate or service phone numbers, but this may not be communicated clearly to consumers. As to the sales process of a mobile broadband product, consumers buying a broadband subscription cannot be expected to actively de-select not only the order but also the automatically selected device if they do not want to include it in the agreement. If the telecom operator’s pricing model is based on the first 6 or 12 months generally being marketed as discounted, the price of these initial months cannot be presented as a specific offer. The applicable contract terms must always be available to consumers before concluding a contract.

The Consumer Ombudsman sent in April 2018 requests for commitment to Elisa Oyj, DNA Oy, Moi Mobiili Oy and Telia Finland Oyj, all of which have already committed to correct the irregularities on their websites.

At EU level, the commonest inadequacies concerned the reporting of disputes

The online shopping sites of telecom companies swept in the EU countries, Norway and Iceland had the following kinds of problems:

  • In 50% of cases, the website advertises a package of services for free or on discount, when they are only a service offered in a bundled package;
  • in 78.7% of cases, the website did not provide a link to the Online Dispute Resolution platform;
  • in 40.6% of the websites, there was no description of a dispute resolution system;
  • 31.9% of the websites can unilaterally changing the terms of the contract or the service characteristics without informing the consumer and without allowing the consumer to cancel the contract;
  • 25.1% of the websites did not provide clear or truthful information about compensation and refund arrangements when the offered service is not what the client had paid for;
  • 21.7% did not provide clear and comprehensive information on the automatic contract renewal;

For more information about the EU-wide sweep’s results, see the European Commission’s press release published today.

An EU-wide screening of websites (“sweep”) is a series of checks conducted simultaneously by consumer protection authorities in different countries. Previous sweeps have included areas such as travel reservation websites (2017), online shops selling clothes and shoes (2016) and online shops selling electronics (2015).