In its annual report, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) states that it seeks to protect the interests of people and businesses in the digital economy. This is necessary for preventing people and businesses from losing confidence in the digital economy, and for preventing innovation from getting stifled. In this effort, ACM actively strikes up collaborations, both at the national and international level. All groups in society must be able to reap the benefits of digitalization.
Martijn Snoep, Chairman of the Board of ACM, explains: ‘We see that consumers are at risk of losing control over their own choices as a result of online methods and algorithms. We also see that large technology companies restrict businesses’ access to their customers or their access to innovations. This erodes confidence in the digital economy. Given the power imbalance in many markets, we see an important role for ACM’s oversight through the enforcement of the relevant rules.’
In 2020, ACM placed emphasis on clarifying standards, explaining the rules and rights, and conducting studies and investigations. For example, ACM published various guidelines in order to clarify the standards that companies must comply with in the digital world. In the Guidelines on the Protection of the Online Consumer, ACM shows at what point persuasion turns into deception. In addition, the consumer education efforts of ACM’s consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer should also empower consumers online. In addition, ACM conducted studies into paid ranking and into the role of big tech companies in the online payment market.
Protection of the online consumer
In 2020, ACM also focused on the protection of the online consumer by taking action against companies that violate the rules. Together with consumer authorities in other countries, ACM urged Apple and Google to give clearer information about the use of data in their apps. Booking and Expedia, too, were reprimanded for their provision of information. In 2021, emphasis will shift towards enforcement.
Oversight during the coronavirus pandemic
With regard to consumer protection, much time was spent on vouchers (such as travel vouchers) and on the conditions under which these were allowed to be issued. In addition, ACM ConsuWijzer answered many questions from consumers about their rights during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In the interest of continuity of health care during and after the pandemic, ACM agreed to far-reaching forms of collaborations. For example, health insurers, hospitals, hospital pharmacies, and pharmaceutical wholesalers were allowed to work closely together in combating the effects of the pandemic. Competition rules offer room for such far-reaching collaborations.
Making the energy transition possible
As part of its Agenda topic ‘the energy transition’, ACM issued recommendations regarding the new Heat Act, as well as regarding the approach to congestion on the electricity grid. In addition, ACM published guidelines that tighten the requirements of sustainability claims (claims such as ‘carbon-neutral production’) for products and services. ACM also explained what opportunities businesses have for working together with regard to sustainability.
Results of ACM’s oversight
In order to account for its actions, ACM each year estimates, among other figures, the financial outcome of its oversight: what is the effect of ACM’s actions on consumer welfare? There are, obviously, other effects of ACM’s actions, too, but which are more difficult to quantify. For 2020, the estimated outcome is 510 million euros. The calculation method that was used this year is slightly different from the method that was used before. The adjustments were made in consultation with outside experts. According to this new calculation method, the outcome in 2019 was 420 million euros , and 680 million euros in 2018.
Evaluation of ACM
In 2020, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK) had ACM’s performance over the past five years evaluated. This evaluation shows that, through its oversight efforts, ACM makes a significant contribution to a healthy economy. Some of the examples that were mentioned in that context: consumer protection and consumer education, its role on the health care market, the guidelines on sustainability agreements, and its role vis-à-vis digital platforms. ACM takes the evaluation’s recommendations to heart. In the next few years, too, ACM will continue to take into account different social trends and public interests in its oversight efforts, for example with regard to digitalization, and its oversight of algorithms and artificial intelligence.
25-03-2021 2020 ACM Annual Report (in Dutch. An English version of the Annual Report will be published soon).