18 April 2017

The European Commission and consumer authorities met with Facebook, Twitter and Google to discuss their proposed solutions to unfair terms and conditions, fraud and scams on their platforms.

The three companies were given until 17 April 2017 to respond to the European Commission and EU consumer authorities with detailed measures on how they will comply with the EU regulatory framework. If the Commission and consumer authorities are not satisfied with their final proposals, the authorities could impose enforcement action.

Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have agreed to review and propose changes to the following areas:

  • unfair terms and conditions
  • fraud and scams that mislead consumers when using social networks.

Unfair terms and conditions

The Commission has stated that social media platforms’ terms and conditions should be brought in line with the Unfair Contract Terms Directive. The main requirements (among others) are:

  • Consumers must be permitted to go to court in their own Member State.
  • Consumers should not be required to waive their mandatory rights, such as their right to withdraw from an on-line purchase.
  • Terms of service cannot limit or totally exclude the liability of social media networks in connection with the performance of the service.
  • Terms of service cannot be unilaterally changed without clearly informing consumers of the justification for the change and not giving them the possibility to cancel the contract with adequate notice.
  • Terms of services cannot confer unlimited and discretionary power to social media operators on the removal of content.

Removing fraud and scams that mislead consumers

Once social media companies become aware of fraud or scams that could mislead consumers, they must remove them from their websites. The consumer protection authorities in each Member State should be able to signal the wrongdoing to the social media operators, arrange the take down of content and obtain information concerning the traders responsible for the wrong doing.

Examples of the types of fraud and scams that the Commission are aiming to tackle are:

  • scams involving payments taken from consumers
  • subscription traps where a free trial is offered for a limited time but consumers are not given sufficient or clear instructions of the subscription cost after the expiry of the free trial
  • fake promotions such as "win a smart phone for 1€" which are in fact a true contest but they entail a hidden long term subscription for several hundred euros per year.

The proposals to tackle the above issues should reduce the number of complaints from consumers and bring social media more in line with EU consumer law. For more information, please see the European Commission press release.

Key contact

Mark Paterson

Mark Paterson Partner

  • Defence
  • Business Transformation
  • Central Government

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