[co-author: Lenneke van Gaal]
The protection of consumers in the online environment has recently taken flight in the Netherlands and is currently a hot topic in this jurisdiction for consumer protection organizations. These organizations actively collaborate with each other, as well as other EU organizations, to create a robust framework for the protection of consumers in the online environment. In this publication we highlight some of the most recent developments which should alert companies to ensure compliance and be aware that consumer protection organizations are monitoring and taking action.
Online store forced by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (“ACM”) to stop using fake likes and fake followers
As part of the recent efforts of the ACM to prevent consumers from being misled, the ACM has been tracking down companies that offer fake reviews, fake followers, and fake likes, in order to urge such companies to stop such practices. One of those companies, named Bicep Papa, the company behind well-known Dutch influencer Mobicep, was found to have bought 98,000 followers and 27,000 likes between September 2018 and August 2020. Due to the fact that such fake likes and fake followers may give the business and its products a more positive image than they have in reality, such use is likely to mislead consumers. In light thereof, ACM forced Bicep Papa to stop using fake likes and fake followers. If it does not, the company will have to pay periodic penalty payments up to a maximum of EUR 100,000, as can be read in the recent press release issued by the ACM.
ACM motivates online commerce platforms to inform consumers more clearly about their rights
As another example of the ACM action that resulted in ensuring that (the presentation of) the information for consumers regarding their rights is in line with EU consumer law, the ACM brought action against an online commerce platform, which offers products online to European consumers. The ACM, working together with the European Commission and regularly informing other European consumer authorities, motivated the platform to implement the following changes:
- The cooling-off period (the right of withdrawal): consumers have the right to cancel purchases within 14 days after having received the goods and without providing a reason, as well as the right to return the goods within 14 days after cancellation;
- Legal guarantees: EU rules regarding guarantees must be indicated, and complied with;
- Extra costs: it must be indicated whether any taxes or other fees need to be paid, for example customs duties at the border;
- Sellers: information must be provided about the identity of the seller.
- Ranking: it must be indicated whether payments have been made in order for a seller to appear higher in the search results.
- General terms and conditions: these no longer violate the relevant laws;
- Complaints: information must be provided about where consumers can turn to if they have any complaints or disputes (no longer the Court of First Instance in Hong Kong, but in the consumer’s own country).
SIDN takes steps protecting internet users from cybercrime by linking an informative landing page to domain names whose nameservers are removed by SIDN
In an effort to further protect internet users against cybercrime, the SIDN, the Dutch organization managing the .nl domain names, is now working with the Dutch police's National Hotline for Internet Fraud, as can be read in the press release issued by SIDN. For those .nl domain names that have been reported with said hotline and at the request thereof, SIDN checks with the registrant of the domain name whether the registration details are correct. If this is not the case, SIDN changes the name servers so that the domain name refers to the landing page. This page subsequently provides information to unsuspecting internet users about why the website they were expecting to see is no longer available.
In short, the protection of consumers in the online environment is not only currently a hot topic in the Netherlands, but is also expected to be here to stay in the form of ongoing actions and initiatives such as those highlighted above. We will be monitoring and reporting on further developments in this area.