Dutch ACM publishes new guidelines on misleading online consumer information
On 11 February 2020, the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) has published new guidelines on online information for consumers that – according to the ACM – should be considered to be misleading.
In the guidelines, types of online behaviour that can be observed in practice are assessed against general consumer legislation. This legislation is principally laid down in the Dutch Civil Code and implements the EU Directives on unfair commercial practices and consumer rights.
According to Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of the ACM: “Businesses have become better and better at nudging and influencing online consumers. This could be beneficial to consumers, but that is not always the case. In these guidelines, we explain how people and businesses should be protected against unfair manipulation. We will now start with enforcement as well. It is important that consumers are able to choose and buy online with confidence.”
In the guidelines, the ACM sets out at what point it believes that legitimate persuasion becomes illegal deception. Important basic principles for businesses in this regard are:
- Prices, including all costs, must be clear during the ordering process, i.e. prior to the purchase;
- It needs to be clear to a consumer if an offer is personalised;
- Scarcity claims need to be truthful;
- Default settings should not be set to the consumer’s disadvantage;
- Search results must be based on the interests of the searching consumer;
- Online reviews and likes must be genuine, and not fictional or manipulated;
- In the case of online gaming, the costs and odds of winning loot boxes need to be indicated clearly.
The ACM’s increased scrutiny with regard to the application of consumer law goes hand-in-hand with an equally increased focus on the digital sector in the application of Dutch competition law. For example, in 2019, the ACM indicated that it requires additional competition law enforcement instruments targeted at online markets and in launched an investigation into a possible abuse of dominance by Apple in its App Store.