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.
The current pandemic has further accelerated digitalisation. This has brought to light many new opportunities that digitalisation has to offer but it has also created new risks, particularly for vulnerable consumers. The European Commission and the CPC authorities have launched a formal dialogue with TikTok, a popular video-sharing social media platform, to review its commercial practices and policies. This follows an alert by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) earlier this year about TikTok’s breaches of EU consumer rights. 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. The dialogue should support TikTok in complying with EU rules to protect consumers. The action coordinated by the European Commission is co-led by the Swedish Consumer Agency and the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
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.