The Consumer Ombudsmen in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) agreed on a position statement regarding e-commerce and marketing on the Internet in October 2002. The statement sets up rules of conduct for businesses in consumer transactions on the Nordic market via the Internet and corresponding mediums such as mobile communications. The position statement expresses what the Ombudsmen consider to be good marketing practise as well as general principles of legislation in the Nordic countries concerning e-commerce. It should be noted that the set of rules in the statement is not exhaustive. Various Nordic national legislation contains additional rules on information obligations, marketing and unfair contractual terms. For example the Swedish Distance Contract Act and the Swedish Electronic Commerce Act contain specific requirements relating to information.
The Position Statement of the Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen on e-commerce and marketing on the Internet can be found on
www.konsumentverket.se (pdf document)
It is emphasized in the statement that the rules of conduct set out in the statement shall be seen as a complement to general consumer protection rules, which also shall apply regarding e-commerce and marketing on the Internet. The consumer shall accordingly be entitled to expect equal protection in the area of electronic commerce as in other forms of commerce. A consumer shall further be entitled to protection that is equally good in connection with cross-boarder sales within the EU as in relation to national transactions. Additional rules concerning e-commerce within the European Economic Area are set out in the Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) and regarding international transactions in the International Chambers of Commerce Guidelines on Advertising and Marketing on the Internet.
The position statement is applicable to all e-marketing directed to the Nordic market, regardless of where in the world the business is situated. Marketing may be deemed directed to a market after an overall assessment in which the following factors in particular are included:
Which languages, currencies and other national characteristics are used.
The extent to which the operation or the service in question is otherwise marketed in the market in question.
The extent to which there is a connection between the marketing in the market in question
The extent to which the business accepts the conclusion of contracts with consumers belonging to the Nordic country in question.
The position statement
Forms and methods of marketing
Rules on advertising identification, design and placement of adverts, marketing via SMS, e-mail and rules on marking of websites (trust marks) are found in this section. It is stated that all marketing must be easily recognized as marketing. Advertising may not be designed in a way that seriously limits the use of the Internet for the average user or unfairly intrudes on his browsing. Marking of websites with trust marks may only be made when the business provides the customer with a more extensive protection than he already has according to laws and regulations.
All the Nordic countries have laws imposing obligations for the seller to give the consumer certain information before, during and after an agreement is entered into. The statement contains examples of such information.
In the statement it is emphasized that the contract should be entered into in a way that makes it totally clear for the consumer that he is entering into a binding contract. This should be made by i.e. keeping the function of concluding the contract clearly separated from other functions. The technical solution shall be such that the consumer must work through the terms of the contract in order to proceed on to the conclusion of the contract. The consumer should also receive an electronic confirmation of receipt of the order, as soon as possible after the conclusion of the contract. The business should not expect the consumer to react as swiftly on e-mails as on traditional mail.
Payment over the Internet is an option when an explicit agreement, which the business can document, exists and when the transfer of information is being strictly encrypted. Payment shall normally not be made until after delivery of the product. In the light thereof standard contract terms for advanced payment may be deemed unfair.
This section contains recommendations regarding time limits for delivery of products, requirements regarding consumers’ possibilities to get in touch with the business and duties for the business to deal with questions and complaints from customers. The statement further contains information on alternative dispute resolution bodies, which consumers can turn to if they are unsatisfied, such as the Consumer Council or the Consumer Complaints Board.
Marketing directed at children and young people
The Ombudsmen’s position is that businesses should not exploit the innocence of children by disguising marketing as games or activity pages or by gathering information from them, about them or regarding the people around them. It is also pointed out that minors cannot conclude contracts with binding effect.
Liability for the content of websites
A business is normally liable for all material presented on its website, although the Internet supplier can be jointly liable. When a business via links makes use of other businesses’ material as consumer information regarding a product, i.e. producers’ product descriptions, the business is also normally liable for the content of this material. When there is a link on a website to other websites, it should be made obvious to the customer when the first website is left.
The businesses are expected to give clear and unambiguous information regarding to which extent the submitted sales and personal information is kept confidential. The information should be kept safe, preferable by encryption, from access by unauthorized people both during transfer and storage.
Further information regarding the position statement and national legislation in the Nordic countries concerning consumer related issues can be found on the Consumer Ombudsmen’s websites.
www.konsumentverket.se under “In English”, see e.g. “Market Law in Sweden” and “Internet & IT”.
www.fs.dk under “Want to Speak English?”
www.kuluttajavirasto.fi under “In English” and “Legislation and guidelines”
www.forbrukerombudet.no under “English version”, “laws and regulations” and “Internet/telecom”