In its guidelines ‘Protection of online consumers’, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has marked the boundaries of where persuasion turns into deception. This marks an important next step in the protection of online consumers. These guidelines form the basis of ACM’s enforcement actions. In addition, ACM will also invest in education to businesses over the next few months so that a level playing field will emerge.
Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “Businesses have become better and better at nudging and influencing online consumers. This could be beneficial to consumers, but that is not always the case. In these guidelines, we explain how people and businesses should be protected against unfair manipulation. We will now start with enforcement as well. It is important that consumers are able to choose and buy online with confidence.”
Key elements of the guidelines
In the guidelines, existing online practices are tested against general consumer legislation. In those examples, it is indicated at what point legal persuasion turns into illegal deception. Important basic principles for businesses in this regard are:
- Prices, including all costs, must be clear during the ordering process. That means: prior to the purchase;
- It needs to be clear to consumers if the offer is personalized;
- Scarcity messages need to be truthful;
- Default settings should not be set to the consumer’s disadvantage;
- Search results must be based on the interests of the searching consumer;
- Online reviews and likes must be real, and not fictional or manipulated;
- In the case of online gaming, the costs and odds of winning loot boxes need to be indicated clearly.
Education about the guidelines
As a result of the consultation of the draft guidelines, ACM has received responses from businesses, trade organizations, and other parties involved. Thanks to their input, ACM has clarified and improved several parts of the guidelines. Over the next few months, ACM will provide education about the guidelines so that businesses understand what boundaries ACM sets to online commercial practices. Through those educational efforts, ACM aims to promote compliance. ACM will also provide information to consumers about their rights through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. Consumers can also file complaints with ACM ConsuWijzer, which ACM uses as valuable input for its oversight. Such indications help ACM determine in what sectors problems are the largest, and what ACM will focus on. The digital economy is one of the topics on the ACM Agenda in 2020. ACM will, in any case, launch investigations into online deception through fake reviews, fake likes, and paid rankings.