Commission wants consumers to surf the web without borders

The European Commission today launched the eYouGuide, a new online tool giving practical advice on the "digital rights" consumers have under EU law. This guide, which responds to a call from the European Parliament in 2007, addresses consumer issues like the rights towards your broadband provider, shopping on the web, downloading music and protecting your personal data online and on social networking sites.

Even though 48.5% of EU households have a broadband internet connection, a new Eurobarometer survey shows that a lack of confidence still holds many consumers back from online transactions. Only 12% of EU web users feel safe making transactions on the internet, while 39% of EU internet users have major doubts about safety, and 42% do not dare carry out financial transactions online. 65% of internet users in the EU do not know where to get information and advice about cross-border shopping in the EU. A third of consumers would consider buying online from another country because it is cheaper or better, but only 7% actually do so. Giving consumers clear information about their rights will increase trust and help unlock the full economic potential of Europe's single online market, worth €106 billion in revenues.

"In the EU, consumer rights online should not depend on where a company or website is based. National borders should no longer complicate European consumers' lives when they go online to buy a book or download a song", said Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "In spite of progress made, we need to ensure that there is a single market for consumers as well as businesses on the web."

"If we want consumers to shop around and exploit the potential of digital communications, then we need to give them confidence that their rights are guaranteed. That means putting in place and enforcing clear consumer rights that meet the high standards already existing in the main street. Internet has everything to offer consumers, but we need to build trust so that people can shop around with peace of mind", said Meglena Kuneva, the EU Consumer Commissioner.

A Guide to Consumer Rights Today

The eYouGuide explains the concrete rights of European consumers surfing the web or shopping online, thanks to 25 years of EU consumer protection rules. Also when online, European consumers have a right to:

  • Clear information about prices and conditions before making a purchase.
  • Decide if and how their personal data is treated.
  • Delivery sent in 30 days after purchase.
  • A "cooling-off" period of at least 7 working days after purchase during which they can change their mind.
  • A minimum 2 year guarantee on products purchased.
  • Protection against rogue vendors, unfair contractual terms and commercial practices.

Consumers can be sure that all these rights apply on any website that ends with the suffix ".eu". Unlike websites ending with .com or .net, a website ending with .eu (the EU top level domain opened in 2006, now at 3 million sites), must be registered by a person or company established in one of the 27 EU Member States and is subject to EU laws.

A "Digital Agenda" for Consumer Rights Tomorrow

Commissioners Reding and Kuneva today also highlighted gaps in EU rules where consumer confidence and the single market for businesses could be further enhanced. In a joint "Digital Agenda", the two Commissioners identify 8 priority areas for possible EU action:

  1. Combating spam with similarly effective civil and criminal sanctions in all EU Member States and neighbouring countries. A "ban on spam" has been part of EU law since 2003, but 65% of Europeans still complain about "excessive spam". While 19.8% of spam globally comes from the US and 9.9% from China, 23.4% comes from Europe with Italy (3%), Spain (2.9%), UK (2.7%) and Germany (2.4%) among the "Top 12". To this, add the EU's neighbours Turkey (4.4%) and Russia (6.4%).
  2. Ensuring that from for consumers, it does not matter which EU country digital content (music, games, films, books) comes from, by paving the way for multi-territorial licensing regimes for online content.
  3. Giving consumers certainty about what they can and cannot do with copy­righted songs, videos and films they download, by ending the current fragmentation of laws on "private copying".
  4. Extending the principles of consumer protection rules to cover licensing agreements of products like software downloaded for virus protection, games or other licensed content. Licensing should guarantee consumers the same basic rights as when they purchase a good: the right to get a product that works with fair commercial conditions.
  5. Guarantee that privacy policies linked to online offers are properly disclosed and have fair contract terms.
  6. Tackling fragmented and incomplete rules on e-accessibility to make it easier for disabled people (15% of the EU population) to use websites, electronic payments and other online services.
  7. Explore opportunities to strengthen confidence in online payments, including successful models such as credit card charge back schemes that allow customers to cancel payments to non compliant traders as a last resort.
  8. Working with industry and consumer associations to set up a European system of trustmarks for retail websites that comply with best practices.