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Rules of thumb for online platforms

The platform economy is growing. Consumers buy and traders sell more and more over online platforms. That offers consumers opportunities, but it also creates risks. Consumers are able to take advantage of benefits such as new services, a wider selection, and lower prices. At the same time, there are many questions about, for example, the division of responsibilities between the platform and the seller. Boundaries may become blurred between seller and platform, consumer and trader, and consumer and platform.

If a consumer makes a purchase over a platform, it is sometimes unclear who exactly the seller is. Does the consumer buy something from the platform, from a professional user or from a consumer that offers something over the platform? In addition, it is sometimes unclear whom the consumer can turn to if they have any complaints regarding the purchase. The consumer consequently becomes unsure about their rights, and will be able to exercise these rights less effectively. Moreover, questions such as these create uncertainty among the traders involved regarding their consumer-law obligations. Also, they are sometimes unable to meet their obligations because the design of the platform lacks the capability to do so. With these rules of thumb, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) offers clarity to the platforms as well as to traders that offer their products and services over those platforms. This will help boost confidence in the digital economy among consumers and businesses.

Platforms and online persuasion techniques

In early-2020, ACM published guidelines regarding the use of online persuasion techniques: “Guidelines on the protection of the online consumer. Boundaries of online persuasion”. In the Guidelines, ACM discusses the online techniques that sellers use in order to influence the behavior of consumers. Platform providers play a crucial role in safeguarding consumer rights and in enforcing compliance with relevant obligations among businesses. Using rules of thumb, this supplement to those guidelines offers clarity about the role and responsibilities of platform providers. It offers a framework with which platform providers must comply. These obligations follow from consumer law.