WhatsApp

In June 2022, the CPC Network, under the lead of Swedish Consumer Agency and the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, supported by the European Commission, sent a second letter to WhatsApp reiterating their request that consumers must be clearly informed about WhatsApp’s business model and, in particular, whether WhatsApp derives revenues from commercial policies relating to users’ personal data.

The CPC Network first sent a letter to WhatsApp in January 2022 following an alert by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and eight of its member associations* on alleged unfair practices in the context of WhatsApp’s updates to their terms of service and privacy policy. The first letter invited the company to clarify the following: 

  • How WhatsApp ensures that consumers can understand the consequences of accepting the updated terms of service;
  • How WhatsApp uses consumers’ personal data for commercial purposes and whether consumers understand that WhatsApp shares this data with other Facebook/Meta companies or third parties;
  • How WhatsApp ensures that consumers can reject the new terms of service, especially as persistent in-app notifications prompt consumers to accept the respective changes;
  • Which measures WhatsApp intends to take concerning those consumers who have already accepted the updated terms of service on the false presumption that this was required to be able to continue using the application.

WhatsApp replied to this first letter from the CPC Network in March 2022. However, after having carefully assessed WhatsApp’s submission, the CPC Network was not convinced by the company’s clarifications on the concerns raised by the Network. WhatsApp has now until July 2022 to provide additional information.

* APC (Romania), Consumentenbond (the Netherlands), dTest (Czech Republic), Forbrukerrådet (Norway), KEPKA (Greece), EKPIZO (Greece), S.O.S. Poprad (Slovakia) and UFC-Que choisir (France).

Google

Google search engine is more and more returning direct commercial offers in response to consumer queries, and in particular regarding hotels or flights. The Commission and Consumer Protection Cooperation authorities, under the lead of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets and the Belgian Directorate General for Economic Inspection, are asking Google to make it clear when it acts as a direct seller or intermediary and to improve its compliance to EU law in general for its various services.
 
The Commission will support national consumer authorities in evaluating the response from Google, taking into account any commitments to modify their websites and services. If the commitments made by Google are not deemed sufficient, a follow up dialogue will take place. National authorities may eventually decide to impose sanctions.
 
Issues identified by CPC authorities

  • No geo-blocking: The app version of the Google Play Store should avoid geo-blocking practices.
  • Transparent search result ranking: Google is expected to explain clearly how the search results of their search engine function are ranked and if (and how) payments may influence the ranking
  • Transparent business model of services: The business model of Google Flights and Google Hotels should be presented in a clear and intelligible way to the consumers.
  • Visible final pricing: Google Flights and Google Hotels are expected to showcase the final prices, including fees or taxes that can reasonably be calculated in advance. Reference prices used to calculate promoted discounts, should be clearly identifiable.
  • Reliability of reviews: Google should ensure the reliability of its hotel reviews presented to consumers. 
  • Ensure communication is transparent: Google Play Store and Google Store should provide information on the trader (e.g. identity, address) in an easily accessible manner. Additionally, in cases where Google acts as trader, consumers should be provided direct and effective means of communication and electronic link to the ODR platform.
  • Provide clear pre-contractual information: Essential pre-contractual information concerning products and services offered on Google Play Store and Google Store must be provided in a clear way and should not be missing
  • Revise standard terms of Google Store: Google should revise the significant imbalance of rights between the trader and the consumer to the detriment of the latter, which created through the standard terms of Google Store that refer to Google’s power to unilaterally cancel orders and change price mistakes. 
  • Improved removal of illegal content: Google should improve the takedown procedure established for the removal of illegal content which is reported by Consumer Authorities.

TikTok

The European Commission and the CPC authorities launched a formal dialogue with TikTok to review its commercial practices and policies, following an alert by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) in February 2022 about the video-sharing app’s breaches of EU consumer rights. The action was facilitated by the Commission, while the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission of Ireland and Konsumentverket, the Consumer Protection Agency of Sweden, were co-leading it on behalf of the national consumer protection authorities of all the member States.  Areas of specific concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children, and certain contractual terms in TikTok’s policies that could be considered misleading and confusing for consumers. 

Following dialogues with the Commission and national consumer protection authorities, TikTok has committed to align its practices with the EU rules on advertising and consumer protection. The measures taken by TikTok will make it easier for consumers to spot advertisements on their platform and will be fully implemented by the end of Q3 2022. The CPC Network will actively monitor the implementation of these commitments, in 2022 and beyond, while Data Protection Authorities will remain competent to assess compliance of the new policies and practices of the company with EU data protection rules.

CPC authorities will, in particular, monitor and assess compliance where concerns remain, such as whether there is sufficient clarity around children’s understanding of the commercial aspects of TikTok’s practices, including in relation to personalised advertising, having regard for the “5 key principles of fair advertising to children”.

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Social media

As more and more consumers are targeted by fraud and scams through social media, a Joint CPC action  obtained that Facebook and Twitter bring their terms of service into conformity with European consumer law; and cooperate swiftly with CPC authorities when they report and request the removal of online illegal content.

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Press release 09/04/2019

Press release 15/02/2018