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Online consumers

A large number of the Dutch use the internet. This creates opportunities, but also risks. Think of abuse of personal details by apps and websites, unforeseen costs of mobile internet, or online shops that do not comply with consumer protection regulations. Although the Internet should actually be leading to more choices, online sales seem to be hindered sometimes by manufacturers, and some products seem to be sold at the same price in all online stores.

ACM’s role

ACM wants that consumers benefit from online developments, and that they are able to surf safely at the same time. In addition, consumers should have the opportunity to decide for themselves what will happen with their personal details. In all of these ambitions, providers, ACM and consumers each play important roles. ACM keeps a close watch on the development of the Internet as a sales channel. ACM is attentive to anticompetitive risks that could impede the opportunities and options of businesses and consumers.

Results of the online consultation

For six weeks, ACM put ten provocative statements and questions online, five of which were about mobile security, and the remaining five about online purchases. The goal was to gain more insight in the underlying problems of these topics.

Mobile security

Based on the responses from the online consultation, ACM concludes that both consumers and businesses increasingly see privacy as an important topic. In practice, however, consumers and businesses do not always show this concern in their behaviour. If studies reveal that such inaction is the result of a lack of information, ACM will adjust its consumer-education efforts accordingly.

Another conclusion from the responses to the online consultation was that the discussion on targeting (targeted commercial communication) and personalization was held too often solely within the context of privacy and protection of personal information. ACM should be looking much more to the effect on consumer choices. This will be taken into consideration in the follow-up steps.

Both industry representatives and academics indicated that, when using mobile-platform operators (mostly US American ones), app-providers and advertisers (mostly European ones) must abide by the conditions of the powerful operators of these platforms, thereby making it difficult to comply with, for example, the Dutch cookie act. If it turns out that this balance of power leads to significant compliance issues, ACM will look further into this.

Another goal of the online consultation was to gain more insight in consumer perceptions (of problems for example), when consumers do not have complete control over their smartphones, and are dependent on the provider or manufacturer with regard to both security and access to services and content (for example, apps). Examples of security issues include not being able to review and change the network and connectivity settings, or to delete unwanted bundled software. Examples of limited access to services and content include the deletion of apps (paid or free) after an update of the operating system, or the blocking of apps on the basis of the app’s contents and/or existing similar apps. As a result, consumers’ freedom of choice may be impeded, and situations may arise where competition is possibly hindered and/or where consumers are forced to buy products/services from a specific provider. However, ACM received few comments about these issues.

Online purchases

Based on indications that ConsuWijzer has received, three topics regarding online shops have been explored in further detail.

  1. ACM wanted to know what experiences consumers had with their rights to warranty on online purchases. From the responses, it could not be concluded whether or not consumers had a clear preference with regard to online purchases when exercising their rights to warranty.
  2. ACM wanted to see whether consumers consciously chose to pay in advance when shopping online, and if so, why. If consumers were to pay upon delivery, consumer harm as a result of delivery problems could be avoided. No responses about this topic have been received.
  3. ACM wanted to know how online shops made sure that information about their stock and delivery times remained up-to-date. One interesting response came from an online shop owner who said that he had a direct connection with his supplier’s inventory, allowing him to give real-time delivery times. According to this shop owner however, it is difficult to set up such a connection, and that most online shop owners do not have such connections, yet give delivery time estimates on their websites nonetheless.

ACM will use the responses to the consultation as input when it decides on its oversight on online shops.