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European Commission - Press release

Buying telecom services online: Commission and consumer protection authorities reveal misleading practices

Brussels, 18 May 2018

Today, the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities published the results of an EU-wide screening of 207 websites offering fixed/mobile phone, internet, audio and video streaming services.

The screening reveals that 163 of these websites could be infringing EU consumer law. Some of the most common issues identified are the advertisement of allegedly free or discounted packages that are in fact a bundled offer, the lack of a dispute resolution system, or the fact that these websites can unilaterally change the terms of the contract without information or justification to the consumer.

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said:  "Consumers use their mobile phone or internet subscriptions every day and should be able to trust these services. This screening confirms, however, that a number of websites selling such services are misleading consumers by advertising fake discounts or not providing the full information necessary to make an informed choice. I expect the false and misleading information to be corrected as soon as possible to ensure the sector fully respects EU consumer rules."

The Commission has recently proposed a New Deal for Consumers which will further strengthen consumer's hands towards traders using unfair commercial practices and reinforce the enforcement of EU consumer rules by authorities.

Main findings:

  • In 50% of cases, the website advertises a package of services for free or on discount, when they are only a service offered in a bundled package;
  • in 78,7 % of cases, the website did not provide a link to the Online Dispute Resolution platform;
  • in 40.6% of the websites, there was no description of a dispute resolution system;
  • 31.9% of the websites can unilaterally changing the terms of the contract or the service characteristics without informing the consumer and without allowing the consumer to cancel the contract;
  • 25,1% of the websites did not provide clear or truthful information about compensation and refund arrangements when the offered service is not what the client had paid for;
  • 21,7% did not provide clear and comprehensive information on the automatic contract renewal;

Next steps

National authorities will look further into the 163 websites with irregularities, which if confirmed will need to be fixed. The Consumer Protection Cooperation authorities will ensure that websites fall back in line, using their national enforcement procedures at their disposal.

Background

An EU-wide screening of websites ("sweep") is a series of checks conducted simultaneously by consumer protection authorities in different countries. They check whether EU consumer protection laws are respected. If they identify a breach in EU consumer law, the consumer protection authorities contact the companies concerned and ask them to make the necessary corrections. Previous "Sweep" actions have focused so far on: airlines (2007), mobile content (2008), electronic goods (2009), online tickets (2010), consumer credit (2011), digital contents (2012), travel services (2013), guarantees on electronic goods (2014), consumer rights directive (2015) and comparison websites in the travel sector (2016)."

Every year the Commission coordinates the screening of websites for a particular sector, with the help of the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network which brings together the consumer authorities of 30 countries (28 EU countries, Norway and Iceland). The authorities are responsible for enforcing EU consumer protection laws in the EU.

The 2016 EU Consumer Markets Scoreboard , which tracks the performance of over 40 markets as experienced by consumers, showed that the telecom sector caused the highest overall consumer detriment, as it revealed that this sector had by far the highest proportion of consumers having experienced problems.

For more information

Q&A

Screening actions and coordinated consumer actions

 

ANNEX

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IP/18/3829

Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email


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