EU to make price transparency clearer for online shopping | Science | In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 12.10.2011

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Science

EU to make price transparency clearer for online shopping

New EU-wide legislation aims to improve consumer experiences online. Consumer groups are applauding the new level of clarity in e-commerce.

online shopping

The new law will make online shopping easier

On Tuesday, the EU's Council of Ministers approved a new piece of legislation at a meeting in Luxembourg, which, among other things will strengthen consumer rights while shopping online.

The 27 member countries now have two years to pass national legislation to enforce the new rules that were passed by the European Parliament in June.

One of the main benefits is that sites will no longer be able to sell additional services and have them already be selected.

"When shopping online – for instance buying a plane ticket – you may be offered additional options during the purchase process, such as travel insurance or car rental," the European Comission said in a statement.

"These additional services may be offered through so-called ‘pre-ticked' boxes. Consumers are currently often forced to untick those boxes if they do not want these extra services. With the new Directive, pre-ticked boxes will be banned across the European Union."

Viviane Reding

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding brokered the deal

A step in the right direction

The legislation is aimed at providing more transparency for products and services, in addition to extra fees or charges. Following the new legislation, online customers can refuse to pay if they were not adequately informed prior to the purchase.

In addition to digital content, the EU now says that a website must make clear "[information] about its compatibility with hardware and software and the application of any technical protection measures, for example limiting the right for the consumers to make copies of the content," and that "consumers will have a right to withdraw from purchases of digital content, such as music or video downloads, but only up until the moment the actual downloading process begins."

European consumer groups and digital rights groups have applauded this move.

"I think that it is probably a helpful small step in the right direction," wrote Joe McNamee, the head of European Digital Rights, an online advocacy group in Brussels.

"Even certain otherwise reputable companies use some quite underhand tactics through 'imaginative' use of default checks in checkboxes on their websites (such as changing back to the default 'opt-in' if the user has to go back and change anything on a form). These companies, at least, will be forced to adopt more transparent policies by the legislation."

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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