On September 29th, 2017, three new decrees in France were taken under The Law for a Digital Republic after a broad consultation within the conseil national de la consommation (National Consumer Council, CNC) with the representatives of the concerned companies. They clarify the practical modalities of new obligations of transparency and loyalty for online platform operators. In other words, consumers will have access to clearer, objective and transparent information.
The three decrees concerned are as follows:
- Decree No. 2017-1434 of 29 September 2017 (which will entry into force on January 1st, 2018) concerning the information provisions of digital platform operators
- Decree No. 2017-1436 of 29 September 2017 (which will entry into force on January 1st, 2018) concerning the information provisions for consumer online notices
- Decree No. 2017-1435 of 29 September 2017 (which will entry into force on January 1st, 2018) concerning the establishment of a threshold of connections from which online platform operators develop and disseminate good practices in order to strengthen clarity and transparency of information transmitted to consumers.
- What is an online platform? Who is affected by these obligations?
Article L111-7 of the French Consumer Code provides that “an online platform operator shall be any natural or legal person proposing, on a professional or remunerated basis, a communication service to the on-line public based on:
1° Classification or referencing, by means of computer algorithms, of content, goods or services proposed or put on line by third parties;
2° or the linking of several parties regarding the sale of a property, the provision of a service or the exchange or sharing of content, property or service. »
These provisions therefore aim for marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay, sites of price comparators, goods or services, search engines, social networks or platforms that connect professionals and consumers or l consumers between them.
- What exactly is this?
Platforms that value content, goods or services offered by third parties, in the image of search engines, social networks or comparator sites, must specify the criteria for referencing and ranking that they use. The concerned information are the conditions for referencing and dereferencing content and offers, the criteria for the default classification of content and offers, or the existence of a capital link or remuneration between the said platform and the companies referenced. This for example allows one to fully know the influence exerted on classification or referencing.
Sites which publish consumer advisories such as TripAdvisor, for example, will need to clarify whether these published notices have been verified and by which method. The online notice is defined as the expression of a consumer’s opinion on his or her consumption experience. The sites concerned will therefore have to detail or not the existence of a procedure of control, the date of publication of each notice and the classification criteria of the latter. In an easily accessible section, they should specify whether or not there is a financial consideration provided in exchange for the filing of notices and the maximum period for publication and retention of a notice.
Finally marketplaces will have to provide consumers with essential information that can have an impact on the choices: the quality of the seller, in particular the professional or consumer status, the description of the service of connection and the price of this service where appropriate, the existence of a right of withdrawal, a legal guarantee of conformity or the method of settling disputes, which are often numerous on such sites and which sometimes discourage consumers by their lack of visibility.
By the end of 2018, the most visited platforms (number of monthly connections greater than 5 million of unique visitors) will be required to follow good practices in terms of loyalty, transparency and clarity. These good practices will be available online by the visitors. These provisions shall apply as from January 1st, 2019. For companies above the threshold, they will have six months to comply.
The topics must be well identified, directly and easily accessible from all the pages of the website. In the case of collaborative platforms, they must be accessible without the user needing to identify themselves.
Finally, these decrees show a willingness to protect the consumer, particularly in cases where platforms, usually seen as neutral, are sometimes paid by companies (for referencing, classification, opinions, etc.). It is a step towards transparency for global players in trade and consumption.
In this regard, Bruno Lemaire said that “platforms play a major role in the digital economy, and are a point of access to many online services for all French people.” These decrees will enable consumers to access clear, objective and transparent information, in order to build confidence in the information presented on these platforms. The objective is to better balance the relationships between platforms and users.
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