Digitalised societies: Can New EU Consumer Agenda protect consumers?
Aside stimulating the green transition, the EU policymakers are keen to revise current protection frameworks in light of the exponential growth of the digitalisation. To the effect, the EU’s New Consumer Agenda adopted in 2020 proposes a set of key action points for EU and national stakeholders.
The adoption of this New Consumer Agenda followed a big stakeholder meeting that took place in Brussels in January 2020. During this meeting representatives of business, consumer organisations, national policymakers and scholars (incl. Exeter’s Professor Joasia Luzak) brainstormed on the objectives and deliverables that should be set in the New Consumer Agenda. However, as policymaking is a dynamic process and considering the newest market (e.g. impact of Covid-19) and technological developments (e.g. further rise of digital influencers in online marketing practices) of the past two years, the discussion on the best approach to revising the current EU consumer protection framework continues.
A part of this debate is a series of national consumer dialogues organised in each Member State by national enforcement authorities and the European Commission. On 22 November the Polish Consumer Dialogue took place, organised by the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) and the European Commission. Professor Luzak was invited as an academic expert to a panel on digitalisation.
Professor Luzak had a chance to present her views on the current threats that digitalisation poses to consumer protection and propose how a new regulatory framework could approach these threats. Her talk highlighted three key points. First, that online marketing practices rapidly adjust to the new socio-economic conditions, testing the elasticity of the current regulatory frameworks, esp. the prohibition of unfair commercial practices. Second, that the regulatory answer to the threats will not suffice if it limits itself to introducing new information obligations for traders and services providers, as this will transfer the risks that digitalisation brings about to consumers. More specificity and more thought as to how to assure transparency is needed when adopting such information obligations. Third, the current framework of consumer vulnerability should be adjusted to account for the exploitation of consumers’ behavioural biases and patterns in the online environment. These points were made on an example of the rise of the digital influencers in the current online marketing strategies and the inefficiency of the current EU consumer protection in handling these.
The digitalisation panel was preceded by the speech of EU Commissioner for Justice – Mr Didier Reynders. The panel itself included also Ms Katarzyna Araczewska (Deputy Director for Protection of Collective Interests of Consumers in UOKiK), Mr Kamil Pluskwa-Dąbrowski (President of the Polish Consumer Federation (Federacja Konsumentów)), Mr Karol Muż (Coordinator of the Polish European Consumer Centre), Mr Łukasz Mamiński (Antitrust Compliance Manager for a Polish online platform, Allegro) and Mr Nils Behrndt (acting Deputy Director_General in the DG for Justice and Consumers in the European Commission).