Friday, 16 February 2018

Facebook and Twitter continue to defy EU consumer protection rules

With the increasing popularity of often American-based social media companies in Europe, consumer organisations and consumer authorities started paying more attention to their compliance with European consumer protection rules. BEUC, motivated by complaints and reports from national consumer organisations, conducted a study in 2014 on the compliance of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox (see the article by M. Loos and J. Luzak, Wanted a bigger stick...), which showed that many of the then-used standard terms and conditions could be questioned as to their fairness. In March 2017 a dialogue took place between social media companies and European legislator, in which the Commission asked for certain changes to be introduced to terms and conditions of these companies, to make them more compliant with EU law (see our previous post on Commission provides a bigger stick...).

Whilst certain T&Cs have been adjusted, eg. consumers are no longer asked to waive their mandatory EU consumer rights (which waiver would not have been valid anyways, but could mislead consumers into thinking that they had lost these rights, like the right of withdrawal) or they can file a claim with a court of their domicile rather than in California (again, term that would not be upheld), the changes are still deemed insufficient (Social media companies need to do more to fully comply with EU consumer rules). The European Commission specifically identifies only partial compliance by Facebook and Twitter with the need to properly inform consumers about content removal or contract termination, and how they regulate their liability. For the full table with compliance assessment see here.

This enforcement action has already lasted a long time, considering that online T&Cs can be changed with a click of a few keys, don't need to be reprinted, etc. There is, therefore, no excuse for social media companies as to the need to prepare these changes administratively. The Commission has been patient, but, perhaps, it is time to stop being lenient and providing these companies with additional opportunities for remedial action and instead to start issuing some incentivizing penalties, instead.


  1. Apologies for commenting on an old post - but the Commission's problem is that it lacks enforcement powers in the field of consumer law. The option would then be that a national consumer authority would initiate a court case in accordance with the national transposition of the UCTD. The lead MS, France, had already closed its national case against Facebook & others. There simply is not much of a stick at all since it is unlikely that another national authority would be willing to risk court proceedings which be lenghty, costly and uncertain. The Social Media operators are most certainly aware of this which explains their inertia.
    The revised CPC Regulation is trying to improve this type of situations.

    1. Yes, the lack of effective and efficient enforcement options is a huge problem of consumer protection. Aside awarding Commission with additional competences, there is now more talk about further stimulating collective redress mechanisms.