Online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay should be liable for any faulty and unsafe goods they sell, said the EU’s biggest consumer group, as Brussels prepares to overhaul its rules for internet platforms.
The EU consumers’ organisation (Beuc), which represents consumer bodies across 32 countries, accused online platforms of selling a wide range of goods that do not comply with EU safety standards.
In a test in February of 250 electrical goods, toys, cosmetics and other products from Amazon, AliExpress, eBay and Wish, two-thirds failed European safety laws.
“The consequences for consumers, including children, of buying such failing products could range from electric shock, to fire or suffocation,” said Beuc.
Platforms also needed to take more responsibility during the coronavirus crisis for the “numerous products with untenable health claims being marketed online”.
Maryant Fernández, senior digital policy officer at Beuc, said the pandemic illustrated perfectly “the power and influence that online platforms can have on our society and our economy”.
“E-commerce shops have become more relevant than ever during the pandemic and we need to hold them accountable,” she said
“It cannot continue to be the case that it’s very easy for a platform to make money from illegal online sales, but that it’s very difficult to put an end to them.”
Online platforms currently regulate themselves, with Amazon, for example, offering customers an “A-to-Z guarantee”, whereby unhappy customers can report a problem to the company and potentially be refunded.
But Beuc said “voluntary action is not enough, or has just become a way to delay regulatory obligations”. It noted that online shoppers lacked the same protections that they enjoyed in bricks-and-mortar shops.
Ms Fernández said that while Beuc’s policy recommendations were not aimed at Amazon specifically, current guarantees offered by the US tech giant were limited in scope.
Amazon said: “We require selling partners to abide by strict product quality guidelines and our teams have robust proactive systems in place to prevent expired goods from being shipped to customers.
“We also use a combination of artificial intelligence and manual processes to monitor over 20m pieces of customer feedback we receive weekly for any concerns. If one arises, we work quickly to investigate, take the appropriate actions to prevent this from happening again, and use this information to improve our systems.”
Despite the coronavirus crisis, officials in Brussels are keen to push ahead with a new Digital Services Act, which will replace the two-decade-old Ecommerce Directive.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said on Monday: “The crisis has shown that it’s more urgent than ever to get the Digital Services Act because you really need to be able to trust what you do online as well as what you do offline.”