Online retailers promise speedy takedowns for dodgy listings

Four online marketplace behemoths including Amazon and eBay have pledged to step up their efforts in removing dangerous and unsafe counterfeit goods from their e-commerce platforms in Europe.  

Alibaba, Amazon, eBay and Rakuten-France all signed the European Commission’s Product Safety Pledge, which voluntarily commits the e-commerce giants to faster response times to notifications of dangerous non-food products, among other measures that seek to ensure consumers are safe when shopping online.

Under the agreement, the firms vow to respond to notifications on dangerous products from European Union member state authorities within two working days add take action on notices from customers within five working days, as well as introducing measures, including education for sellers, to prevent the listing of dangerous goods.

“The ultimate goal is to improve the detection of unsafe products marketed in the EU before they are sold to consumers or as soon thereafter as possible, and to improve consumer protection. These commitments will go beyond what is already established in the EU legislation, including those on product safety,” the Pledge states.

The Product Safety Pledge follows findings that an increasing number of products that are notified as dangerous through the EU’s Rapid Alert System are sold online.

In 2016, online sales represented 20 per cent of the total sales in the EU, while the Rapid Alert System – an information exchange between EU member states about dangerous non-food products that pose a health and safety risk to consumers – recorded 2,201 alerts last year, resulting in 4,000 follow-up actions.

The European Commission believes this highlights the need for online marketplaces to step up their efforts when it comes to removing dangerous products from their platforms, adding that such firms are “well placed to play an important role in product safety, due to the significant amount of products sold through their websites”.

“More and more people in the EU are shopping online. E-commerce has opened up new possibilities for consumers offering them more choice at lower prices,” said Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality. “Consumers should be just as safe when they buy online, as when they buy in a shop. I welcome the Product Safety pledge, which will further improve consumer safety. I call also on other online marketplaces to join this initiative so that the internet becomes a safer place for EU consumers.”

Under the Product Safety Pledge, the four major e-commerce firms have committed to 12 measures that seek to ensure online marketplaces are safe for consumers.

Two measures seek to expedite the response and removal process of dangerous goods being sold on online platforms, including the commitment to remove listings of unsafe products within two working days when notified by member states’ authorities, and providing a clear process for customers to notify the firms about dangerous product listings and responding appropriately within five working days.

Under the current EU e-commerce directive, the law already dictates that listings of dangerous goods must be removed but it does not specify in what time frame.

Through the new product safety agreement there is now an onus on companies to ensure they have an internal mechanism for notice and take-down procedures for dangerous products and that this will be followed when notifications are made.

In addition, the firms agreed to provide information/training to sellers on compliance with EU product safety legislation and require that sellers comply with the law, while putting in place measures to act against repeat offenders offering dangerous products, as well as having measures to prevent the reappearance of dangerous product listings already removed.

Meanwhile, firms will explore the potential use of new technologies and innovation to improve the detection of unsafe products.

There is also the requirement to co-operate with the EU to set up a process aimed at proactively removing banned product groups.

The e-commerce companies are also expected to consult information on recalled and dangerous products available on the EU Rapid Alert System, and from other sources, and take appropriate action, as well as co-operating with EU member state authorities in identifying the supply chain of dodgy products by responding to data requests. 

They pledged to facilitate communication on product safety issues with EU member state authorities, including providing a specific single contact point for notifications, while also informing consumers about recalls or corrective actions and informing authorities of any action the firms have taken against dangerous products.

The Product Safety Pledge is a further example of the EC ramping up action on the internet, which has been described as a digital Wild West by the EC. In September last year, the EC issued guidelines that put pressure on tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to do more to remove illegal online content such as hate speech, copyright infringement and counterfeit goods, with further recommendations made in March. The EC has threatened legislative action if online firms don’t do enough to address the issues.   

The online marketplaces and the Commission will assess the progress made on the Product Safety Pledge commitments every six months by looking at key performance indicators and will publish a report.

The EC is now calling on other online marketplaces to sign up to the Pledge.

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