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40 pct of online shops engaged in manipulative practices - EU report

30 January 2023, 23:26 CET
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40 pct of online shops engaged in manipulative practices - EU report

Ecommerce - Photo by form PxHere

(BRUSSELS) - 148 out of 399 online shops screened by the EU in a "sweep" of online retail websites were found to engage in 'manipulative online practices, the European Commission announced on Monday.

The check, carried out by the Commission and national consumer protection authorities of 23 Member States, Norway and Iceland (CPC Network), covered 399 online shops of retail traders selling products ranging from textiles to electronic goods. It focused on three specific types of manipulative practices that are often known to push consumers into making choices that may not be in their best interest, so-called 'dark patterns'.

These include: fake countdown timers; web interfaces designed to lead consumers to purchases, subscriptions or other choices; and hidden information. The investigation showed that 148 sites contained at least one of these three dark patterns.

"This behaviour is clearly wrong and against consumer protection," Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: "Today we already have binding tools to help tackle such issues and I call on national authorities to make use of their enforcement capacities to take relevant action and fight these practices." He added that the Commission will be reviewing all consumer legislation "to ensure it is fit for the digital age, including to assess whether dark patterns are adequately covered."

  • 42 websites used fake countdown timers with deadlines to purchase specific products;
  • 54 websites directed consumers towards certain choices - from subscriptions to more expensive products or delivery options - either through their visual design or choice of language;
  • 70 websites were found to be hiding important information or making it less visible for consumers. For example, this included information related to delivery costs, the composition of products, or on the availability of a cheaper option. 23 websites were hiding information with the aim of manipulating consumers into entering into a subscription;
  • The sweep also included the apps of 102 of the websites screened, 27 of which also deployed at least one of the three catagories of dark patterns.

National authorities will now contact the traders concerned to rectify their websites and take further action if necessary, according to their national procedures.

In addition, the Commission is gathering feedback on three directives related to consumer protection, to determine whether they ensure a high level of protection in the digital environment: the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive, and the Unfair Contract Terms Directive. A public consultation is open until 20 February 2023.

The Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC)

Sweeps: Website checks

Consumer protection regulation


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