Feeds

EU rolls out out astroturf guide for consumer laws

Grocers' stalls, 5-a-side pitches only please

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Social networking sites and blogs can be governed by the European Union's Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, according to new guidance published by the European Commission.

The guidance has been published to help countries and companies comply with a piece of legislation that poses "a number of challenges", according to the guidance.

"Since the adoption of the Directive, Member States have enacted national transposition laws. This poses a number of challenges, especially if one considers the legal impact of full harmonisation in an area characterised by considerable differences in national policy, style and enforcement techniques," it said.

"In order to ensure that both consumers and traders are subject to the same rules across the EU, it is very important that national authorities and courts contribute to the uniform implementation and consistent enforcement of the Directive. This document aims at providing guidance on the key concepts and provisions of the Directive perceived to be problematic."

It clarifies the status of the social networking activities that companies use to market and sell their goods and services.

"Social media, which include blogs, social networking sites, have become important avenues for commercial practices, especially hidden ones," says the guidance. "For example, several Member States have reported that cosmetic companies have paid bloggers to promote and advertise their products on a blog aimed at teenagers, unbeknownst to other users."

"In such cases, the authorities considered that the bloggers concerned were engaging in hidden commercial practices," it said.

The guidance also said that increasingly popular online price comparison websites could be controlled by the Directive, which was transposed into UK law as the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations.

"Unfair commercial practices may also occur on price comparison websites," it said. "An obvious case is when an online price comparison service belongs to, or is linked to a trader and is used to advertise its products."

"For example, the site 'quiestlemoinscher.com' (literally 'whoisthecheapest.com'), a grocery price comparison service created by a French major supermarket company, was considered by French courts to be a trader's website and a tool for comparative advertising," it said. "In the case of professional but independent price comparison websites, the trader's activity consists of sourcing prices from retailers and passing this information on to consumer. Such service providers should therefore also be considered as traders and they would therefore be bound by the Directive's provisions."

The guidance focuses on other areas in which it thinks that legislators, traders and consumers might need advice. It covers definitions of 'traders' and 'transactional decisions'; guidance on the treatment of vulnerable consumers; misleading environmental claims; and confusing marketing.

The guidance also says that 'hidden traders' break the terms of the Directive. This includes the practice of 'astro-turfing', which is where a company pretends to be a consumer to leave positive online comments in imitation of real grass roots support.

Some examples of its guidance are:

* After-sales services should reflect what the trader has promised (for instance, where a computer is sold with a guaranteed free hotline, the trader is not allowed to charge for its use); and * 'Hidden' traders breaking the rules may be a hotel website including flattering comments supposedly by consumers which are actually drafted by the hotel owner; or a bookshop advertising its 'customers' choice' books where customers have never been consulted and the choice is made by the bookseller.

The guidance can be read here (pdf).

You can also read OUT-LAW Guide to Consumer protection from unfair trading regulations here.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.