By Fredericka Argent and Ezra Steinhardt

On 21 December 2012, the European Commission published a Code of EU Online Rights (the “Code”) as part of its on-going Digital Agenda for Europe initiative.  The aim of the Code is to set out in a single, user-friendly document the minimum rights of consumers in the digital environment.  European consumer rights arise under a number of different EU laws, including laws relating to electronic communications, data privacy, e-commerce and more general consumer advertising and protection rules.  The Code summarises pre-existing legal rights from a variety of these source laws, but the Code itself is not a legal document.  The Commission hopes that by raising awareness of these rights, the Code will inspire trust and confidence in consumers when they make use of online resources.

The Code is split into three parts, that deal with consumer rights: 1) available when online services are accessed and/or used,  2) available when goods or services are purchased online, and  3) that protect consumers in case of disputes with online vendors or service providers.  Some of the main rights and principles highlighted in the Code include:

  • Consumer rights to access any public electronic communications network and/or service they choose.  Such rights are intended to promote the “open and neutral character of the Internet” as well as ensuring the quality of services accessed by consumers.
  • Consumer rights of non-discriminatory treatment when accessing services online.  These rights mean that, for example, consumers must not be provided with less favourable conditions of access to online services based purely on their Member State of residence.
  • Principles of consumer protection with respect to their  privacy, personal data and security.  These principles encompass many rights, such as the right of individuals to correct or erase incomplete or inaccurate data relating to themselves.
  • Consumer rights to information when purchasing goods or services online.  There are a number of consumer rights to information when concluding online contracts, including obligations on online vendors to ensure that their contract terms are written in plain and understandable language.  The Code also details rules about the delivery of goods, and consumer rights to withdraw from a contract.
  • The protection of consumers against unfair practices.  This principle includes protection for consumers against unfair commercial practices as well as unfair marketing or advertising practices.
  • Consumer rights to access justice and protections for consumers in the event of disputes.  This part of the Code outlines consumer rights that set out various procedures for consumers where there is a conflict in an online contract.