You may remember a while back I did a series of posts on how Mozilla was protecting Germans by going after the operators of “subscription trap” websites based in Germany. I’m pleased to say that the German government has now joined the fight.
A few days ago, the German Ministry of Justice passed a legislative proposal (PDF; link in German) for an amendment to the German Civil Code. The title is “Draft Law for the enhanced protection of consumers against online subscription traps”.
Here’s the first paragraph:
Many consumers use the Internet to obtain information in an easy manner or to make use of cost-free services such as downloads of freeware. In doing so, they often fall victim to so called cost- or subscription traps (…) Shady undertakings intentionally conceal the fact that they charge for their services by means of a confusing or misleading presentation of their websites. For example, an offer on such a website will be praised, in a graphically highlighted form, as “free”, while only in the small print, or hidden in the General Terms and Conditions, is information provided about the costs of the provided services. This information is moreover often provided in small or pale print, hidden in a footnote or will only become visible on the computer screen after the consumer has scrolled further down. Consumers can therefore only recognise with difficulty that a service that is at first sight cost-free will result in costs after all.
That’s the problem in a nutshell.
When the law passes, persons or entities making commercial offers to consumers online which require payment will be required to do two things:
- Show a clearly visible, highlighted notice about all costs the consumer will incur when making use of the offer; and
- Make it so that, before contracting, the consumer actively has to confirm that he has read the cost information.
If a website does not satisfy these requirements, the contract will be void.
This proposal will now be introduced into the German “Bundestag” (the “lower House of Parliament”). Once it has been approved by the lower chamber, it will then need approval from the “Bundesrat” (the Federal Assembly, or “upper House of Parliament”). That may take approx 6 months. Our German contacts say the motion has strong support, so it is rather unlikely that it won’t become law. However, it could be amended along the way.