Consumer law 2.0

Digitalisation is changing every area of our lives and every consumer sector, including our behaviour. Given that, by trading on internet platforms, private individuals can now become suppliers as well, the boundaries between suppliers and consumers are becoming blurred. The “sharing economy” is giving rise to a whole new set of legal issues.

At the same time, consumers increasingly tend to be mindful of the need to purchase goods responsibly. Many are interested in the origin and manufacturing conditions of products and use this information to make informed consumer choices. Consumers are therefore becoming consumer citizens, who are willing to take on social responsibility.

Digitalisation is leading to new forms of trade. Digital content raises a number of questions in traditional sales law, such as: What are my rights of withdrawal? Can I exchange goods? Can I pass goods on to third parties? The approaching interconnectivity of almost all material goods – the “Internet of Things” – highlights gaps in the legal system. The current legal concepts of “ownership” and “possession” reveal weaknesses with regard to digitally interconnected products that are no longer usable without software components: Are today’s consumers “dissappropriated” because they don’t own the software needed to run their car, and have no more than a usage right? Is the current system of enforcement sufficient to be able to effectively tackle the problems posed by the digital world? Here, too, we need to look at whether it might be necessary to extend the existing law – particularly the law on collective redress.

Evidence-based consumer rights policy can be drawn up only on the basis of solid data. In Germany, we have started to systematically record consumer problems and consumer complaints so that we can identify the areas where more action is needed. Since many consumer problems are no longer of a purely national nature, we will increasingly need to coordinate measures at the European level – especially with regard to consumer problems in the digital world.

In view of this number of questions the SVRV has focused on the subject “consumer law” and presented its report “Consumer Law 2.0 – Consumers in the Digital World” on 1 December 2016. Therein the SVRV requires transparency and security in the use of digital services and proposes 11 specific consumer protection measures.