Better protection for EU Consumers downloading games, e-books, videos and music
Thanks to the joint action of the EU Member States and the European Commission, 116 websites selling digital games, books, videos and music have been brought in line with the EU consumer legislation.
Mr Neven Mimica, the European Commissioner for Consumer Policy, said: “Enforcement of consumer rights is a priority for me including in the rapidly changing digital environment. I am pleased that this sweep addressed some of the most important issues related to digital content downloads. A year ago over 50% of the websites were not compliant, which is unacceptable. This figure is now down to 20%, and further results are expected. This is great progress but I will continue to fight for improvements.”
This improved protection is the outcome of the so called “sweep” – an EU-wide screening of websites to identify breaches of consumer law and to subsequently ensure its enforcement. The screening of the websites that sell digital content took place in summer 2012. The national authorities checked, in total, 330 websites covering a large share of the market. Detailed investigation by national authorities found a total of 172 websites to be non-compliant with EU consumer law. They contacted the companies concerned in order to make these websites compliant. To date 116 websites have been corrected. 49 websites are subject to further proceedings; in 5 cases the infringements were minor and not pursued by the Member States, while 2 websites no longer exist. As a result of this intervention by the enforcement authorities in the EU Member States, 80% of the 330 websites are now in line with EU consumer legislation.
What has been checked exactly?
The websites were checked to determine whether information on the key characteristics of the products was easily accessible and not in the “small print”; whether the websites provided email addresses to which questions and complaints might be submitted; and, to see whether the websites contained fair terms and conditions. The main discovered problems were:
• Unfair contract terms excluding the consumers’ right to take legal action or denying consumers a right to compensation in cases where the products failed to work;
• Unclear information with regard to the right of withdrawal: due to the nature of digital downloads, traders are required to inform consumers prior to the purchase that they will not be able to cancel a download once this has started – this was however not the case for 42% of websites checked.
• A lack of mandatory information on the trader’s identity, in particular their email address, depriving consumers from an effective contact channel.
In addition to the sweep, the European Commission ordered a complementary study that revealed that no, or limited, information was provided about geographical restrictions that might apply. Such information is essential to consumers when travelling to other EU countries, who normally expect to be able to access and use their digital content without obstacles throughout the Single Market.
This study also revealed that games advertised as “free” often required some payment at a later stage without this being clearly explained up-front. Such practices often target directly children, the most vulnerable of consumer groups, and have led to situations in which parents have run up huge bills by allowing their children to play on their mobile devices.
What happens next?
National administrative or legal proceedings continue for the 49 websites which are still not compliant. The specific issue of in-game purchasing is also being reviewed to secure better information for consumers and to avoid disproportionate and unexpected charges as a result of in-game purchases by children.
A “sweep” is an EU-wide screening of websites, to identify breaches of consumer law and to subsequently ensure its enforcement. The sweep is coordinated by the European Commission and run simultaneously by national enforcement authorities. The Digital Content Sweep took place in 26 EU Member States, Norway and Iceland in June 2012. It was the 6th sweep since 2007.
A growing percentage of European citizens purchase digital content: on average, 79% of European consumers have used online music services and 60% have used online games over the last 12 months. According to industry sources, the value of music downloads in the EU totalled €677 million in 2010; consumers in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and Belgium are estimated to have spent €16.5 billion on online games in 2011. Games targeting children which are advertised as “free to play” represent an increasing share of the EU games market (50% of all games over the last 12 months).