E-commerce: Look out for unfair terms when buying games, books, videos and music online
Just in time for the holidays and gifts shopping season, the European Commission today publishes the results of an EU wide screening of. The check shows that over 75% of these websites do not appear to comply with consumer protection rules. This is all the more worrying when vulnerable consumers, i.e. children, are targeted. Users have to click their way through a maze of contract terms, to find out how much they will eventually have to pay and children are frequently lured into purchasing items related to supposedly free games. In case of a problem, reaching the after-sales service is often difficult as contact information is missing in more than one third of the websites.
The main problems were:
- Unfair terms: contract terms must be clearly indicated and fair. A total of 230 websites (69%) contained terms considered unfair, e.g. i) excluding the trader's liability in case a download damages the consumer's equipment, ii) excluding or preventing consumers from exercising their right to seek legal or other redress or making it difficult to do so, or iii) depriving consumers of the right to receive a new product or to claim reimbursement when the downloaded product fails to work;
- The right of withdrawal: due to the nature of downloads, the consumer loses his right of withdrawal from the contract when downloading has begun with the consumer's agreement (in other words, the downloaded product cannot be returned); however traders are required to inform consumers prior to the purchase about this fact. 141 websites (42% of websites checked) did not provide this information;
- Missing information on the trader's identity and address: traders are obliged to indicate their identity, geographical and email address on their website to enable consumers to contact them, if necessary. 121 websites (36%) did not display such essential information.
In addition to the sweep, the Commission contracted a complementary study that revealed the following:
- No information about geographical restrictions: consumers may not be able to use downloaded digital content in a country other than their place of residence and traders should inform them about this. 73% of all checked websites remain silent on this information. When this information is given, it is often presented only in the general terms and conditions and is therefore difficult to find.
- Games advertised as "free" often involve some payment at a later stage: Nearly 9 out of 10 websites failed to inform users upfront about add-ons or in-game purchases requiring payment; although this information is often mentioned in the contract terms, it bears no clear indication about prices.
In Sweden, 17 companies were examined by the Consumer Agency, of which 15 were received objections. The next step will be for the regulators in each country to compel all companies with deficiencies to correct them.
If that does not help, legal action will be taken.
For more information, go to the European Commission's website, see link on the right side of this page.