Dodgy websites could be blocked under new European rules

The European Parliament has passed new rules aimed at protecting consumers from online scams and fraud, including new powers to block websites involved with illicit trade.

Approved by MEPs, the revised Consumer Protection Co-operation (CPC) regulation, which aims to close legal loopholes that exist as a result of differences between European countries, will give more power to enforcement authorities to detect and halt online breaches of consumer protection laws and improve EU-wide co-ordination.

The rules will apply in situations such as the online sale of illicit or counterfeit products, online rogue traders, hidden online subscriptions, directory fraud, and other online scams.

“The new rules will strengthen and improve co-operation between all consumer protection actors, so that they can more easily monitor compliance and address cross-border infringements,” rapporteur Olga Sehnalová said. “National authorities, the Commission and consumer organisations, all acting together, will create an effective mechanism to combat rogue traders both online and offline and enforce consumers’ rights in the Single Market.”

The “far-reaching” powers under the new rules include: requesting information from domain registrars and banks to identify rogue traders; purchasing goods or services as test purchases, including under a cover identity; ordering the explicit display of a warning to consumers, or ordering a hosting service provider to remove, disable or restrict access to an online interface, such as a website or app, if there are no other effective means to stop an illegal practice; imposing penalties and fines; and seeking to obtain commitments from the trader to offer adequate remedies to the affected consumers, and informing them of how to seek compensation.

In cases where consumers in at least two-thirds of EU member states are affected by a breach in consumer protection law, then the EU Commission will co-ordinate actions. The rules will also stop fraudsters from starting up scams in a new country after being shut down in another country.

Meanwhile, consumer organisations will work with authorities and will play a significant role in flagging suspected infringements.

S&D group spokesperson for the internal market and consumer protection committee, Nicola Danti MEP, said: “The new rules make consumer protection fit for the digital age. Consumers must be able to shop with confidence online, including across borders. Today’s vote is a positive step to ensure strong and enforceable consumer rights for everyone in the EU.”

Consumer Protection Co-operation regulation first came into force in 2004 but the growth in cross-border trade and e-commerce has made it necessary to revise the rules. According to the European Parliament, 37 per cent of online shops and booking websites for travel, entertainment, clothing, electronic goods and consumer credit services were found to be in breach of EU consumer laws in 2014.

The EU is moving towards a digital single market and is exploring a number of proposals around this. In August, the EU provided guidance on the selling of products online in a bid to improve enforcement and market surveillance of the online supply chain, with a focus on non-food products.

The European Parliament believes the new consumer protection rules will help to increase consumers’ trust in cross-border e-commerce.

However, Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda said the new rules could be abused and provide a backdoor to censorship where internet access providers can block access to websites without requiring judicial authorisation. Reda had previously proposed that content that infringes consumer protection laws should be removed rather than access to the website blocked. She also believed the rules had been watered down.

The legislative text, approved by Parliament by 591 votes to 80, with 15 abstentions, still needs to be formally adopted by the Council of the EU. The regulation will apply 24 months after the date of its entry into force.

Related articles:

     Want our news sent directly to your inbox?

Yes please 2


Home  |  About us  |  Contact us  |  Advertise  |  Links  |  Partners  |  Privacy Policy  |   |  RSS feed   |  back to top