Online purchases, smartphone apps, price comparison tools – the daily life of a consumer has long been largely digitalised. Sometimes problems arise, with the withdrawal from online purchases for instance. The highly dynamic nature of digital markets, the lack of transparency in data processing and the existence of manipulative designs of user interfaces through the use of dark patterns - whereby users of online services are induced to take decisions against their interest - make the market murkier and hamper consumer protection. The Team Monitoring Digital Markets at the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband, vzbv) monitors and analyses digital markets from the consumer perspective.
The team’s work currently focuses on the following areas:
- Telecommunications services (for example: unsollicited contracts, shortcomings with broadband bandwidth, problems with mobile phone providers)
- User-generated content (for example: data protection violations, problems with social networks or connected devices)
- Digital goods (for example: problems with streaming services, games apps or software)
- IT security (for example: identity theft, IT product safety, 2-factor authentication)
- Digital services (for example: comparison tools, online dating, online tickets and travel reservations)
- Online shopping (for example: fake shops, subscription scams, problems with the right of withdrawal, problems with delivery)
Since the end of 2015, the following shortcomings in the digital market (among others) have been identified and eliminated thanks to the team’s work:
- EU international calls: With the market study on “Telephone calls from Germany to other EU countries”, the Market Monitoring teams were able to show that consumer expectations differed considerably from the roaming rules that existed at the time. vzbv engaged in the legislative process and advocated for rules where the pricing of calls and messages to other EU countries must be subject to the principle of non-discrimination. In July 2019, the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) introduced a cap on these fees.
- WhatsApp: Based on its amended terms of service and privacy guidelines, this company grants itself the right to collect data from consumers, to store it and to pass it on to Facebook. In vzbv’s view, this practices are unlawful in parts. vzbv has therefore brought a lawsuit against WhatsApp before the Regional Court of Berlin.
- Telekom Germany: vzbv won its case against this telecommunications operator in two instances. The courts found that some product information sheets (PIS) on internet tariffs contained, in addition to the required information, further information about a fall-back option in case the data transmission rate of the tariff is not available on site. Such information is not allowed in PIS. The ruling of the Higher Regional Court of Cologne is legally binding.
- Various successful written warnings against in-app purchase rip-offs.
- Misleading advertising: The Regional Court of Berlin has prohibited the online bicycle shop Hoco Online GmbH from using a 5-star rating to advertise bicycles when no customer reviews are available.