Netherlands Consumer Authority to address inadequate disclosure of information by SMS service providers
Many children and adolescents inadvertently and unintentionally subscribe to SMS services (usually ringtones), leaving them stuck paying dozens of euros a month. This problem is caused by incomplete and vague information on certain ebsites that offer SMS services. They use banners on websites for children and young people to specifically target this group. Ringtones are often offered as 'free', while the fine print states that they are actually part of a subscription. Since an appeal by State Secretary Heemskerk, more than 520 reports of problems with SMS services have been received through ConsuWijzer, the information website for consumers. The Consumentenautoriteit (Netherlands Consumer Authority) is now going to take actionagainst SMS service providers, taking some matters into its own hands and referring other matters to Stichting Reclame Code (the Dutch Advertising Code Committee).
Together with the Independent Regulator of Post and Electronic Communications (OPTA), the Consumentenautoriteit looked at 140 popular websites for children and young people, which were supplied by e.g. Stichting Mijn Kind Online (My Child Online Foundation). These websites are visited by hundreds of thousands of young consumers every day. Information in the form of banners of SMS service providers (often ringtones) was found on 22 of these sites. The information found or the information to which the banners link is often incomplete, vague or incorrect. It appears as if the service or ringtone is offered free of charge, but essential information on the agreement you enter into is frequently lacking. In practice you often turnout be committed to a paid subscription.
The Consumentenautoriteit will present a number of the advertisements found to Stichting Reclame Code to determine whether they concern misleading advertising. The Consumentenautoriteit can take action on other matters itself and impose sanctions, particularly with regard to the lack of essential information that is important for the consumer when taking out the subscription. In addition, SMS service providers, SMS brokers and mobile operators are working to improve their joint code of conduct under OPTA's supervision. In today's speech marking the first anniversary of ConsuWijzer, State Secretary Heemskerk of Economic Affairs called on all parties involved to make haste in amending the code of conduct.
Marije Hulshof of the Consumentenautoriteit: "We are dealing with vulnerable groups here. Children and young people are enticed by offers that seem harmless, but which can be very costly in practice. This involves misleading and vagueforms of winning customers, which is something we want to address. The young consumers don't realise that requesting a free ringtone leaves them stuck with an expensive subscription. We are calling on parents and young people to be alert to these kinds of offers."