The European Commission published on 25 May legislative proposals for new e-commerce rules and a Communication on online platforms. AIM has been actively taking part in the Digital Single Market discussion to boost consumer trust in the digital environment. In particular, AIM has been an enthusiastic advocate of the Single Market since its inception and therefore wholeheartedly supports the objective of the DSM to give better access to goods and services online by removing unjustified barriers and improving the confidence of consumers and businesses to buy and sell cross-border.
In the package, the legislative proposal on geoblocking attracted the most attention from stakeholders due to potentially negative effects on the fundamental freedom to conduct businesses and on consumers’ shopping experience online. AIM welcomes that the European Commission did not propose a general obligation to deliver everywhere in Europe. The preliminary results of the e-commerce inquiry showed that retailers did not sell cross-border mostly on the basis of unilateral business decisions, often motivated by the risks from legal fragmentation. The suggested legislation still raises some concerns in terms of legal uncertainty and potential unintended effects. AIM will work with the colegislators to address them. We also would welcome even greater momentum in addressing the underlying causes to geoblocking, i.e. the legal fragmentation of the single market.
The Communication on online platforms is also of great interest for AIM. Digital platforms have created new opportunities for brands to interact with consumers. Brand owners have been pioneers in delivering to users and fans great creative content and in distributing their products online. According to the website Social Bakers, 25 brands belonging to AIM members have more than 550,000,000 fans on Facebook. On the risk side, the Communication highlights a number of challenges both for society and companies, which could hinder Europe’s ability to grasp fully the opportunities offered by the Internet. We agree that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work best but improvements could be done in some areas. For example, AIM welcomes the willingness of the European Commission to “…assess the role intermediaries can play in the protection of intellectual property rights, including in relation to counterfeit goods” in the context of the evaluation and modernisation of the intellectual property rights enforcement directive. It is particularly timely as the EUIPO and OECD have just published a report on the growing import of counterfeits – 5% of total imports with Italian and French brands among the hardest hit and many of the proceeds going to organised crime (link). The report mentions the role of e-commerce as a major enabler for the distribution and sale of counterfeit.
AIM strongly believes that a “duty of care” for online platforms would be the opportunity to build trust online and create a safer and more dynamic digital environment for people and for businesses. Every actor, and brands start with themselves, has the responsibility to take appropriate proactive measures to ensure that its operations do not cause harm to others. The Communication announces studies on the liability of intermediaries and notice and action procedures. We hope that they will clarify the nature of the issues, improve the situation and ultimately increase consumers’ trust in platforms to the benefit of all.
Finally, AIM is pleased that the new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive guidelines strengthen the existing rules. AIM actively contributed via its participation in the multistakeholder dialogues on misleading comparisons and green claims. We appreciate in particular that the European Commission strived to clarify the due diligence obligations of online intermediaries/platforms when they act as traders. However, we share the concerns of some consumer associations that it will not be enough to generate consumer confidence. Moreover, we welcome the willingness of the European Commission to address the issue of parasitic copying and misleading comparative advertising. In spite of the current rules, this practice is still widespread in some markets to the detriment of consumers, who are misled by products mimicking the packaging of famous brands. AIM will contribute to the consultation on the fitness check of the EU Consumer Law to find the best way to increase consumer protection against misleading practices.