Polish watchdog continues to verify unfair online practices
Published on 26th Sep 2023
Entrepreneurs should invest time in adjusting their websites to current legal requirements - Omnibus Directive's infringements still present
Recently, the President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP) has brought charges of infringing the collective interests of consumers against a company enabling consumers to order an electronic prescription or sick leave through online medical consultations. It said that the company's website misled users as to the possibility of obtaining a prescription for certain medicines, as to the right of withdrawal, and from an Omnibus Directive implementation viewpoint, as to the authenticity of service reviews.
The telemedicine company promoted its activities by presenting only positive comments on the main pages of its websites. At the same time, it did not provide information as to whether and how it checked their authenticity, nor whether the reviews came from people who had bought a given service and used it.
Under the Omnibus Directive, every entrepreneur who provides access to reviews of products and services must indicate whether he verifies them. If so, he should state how he does so, as well as whether he posts all reviews – including the negative ones.
It is not the first proceeding regarding fake consumer reviews in Poland. The president of OCCP has already dealt with infringements by two companies trading with fake reviews and ratings last year, which ended with a PLN 70 000 penalty. This year, the Polish watchdog imposed a fine of PLN 40 000 on another company.
Increased regulatory scrutiny in terms of dark patterns
The president of OCCP stays active also in other areas, such as dark patterns. Lately, a Polish company from the fashion sector has been fined with a penalty greater than PLN 100 000.
On its website, the company was presented as an online clothing store. However, to a large extent, it operated the dropshipping model (where goods are sold on websites that the business does not keep in stock itself, but orders from a third company), acting as an intermediary. Returns resulted in the need to send the purchased goods at the consumers' expense directly to the manufacturer, which was usually based in China.
Moreover, the interface of those websites involved the use of a dark pattern (a deceptive design that tricks users into doing things they did not intend to). Next to the offers, there was a counter that counted down the hours until the end of the discount. Every day the countdown would be restarted for the next supposed special. The counter encouraged quick shopping, which every day encouraged consumers to take advantage of the same offers.
Osborne Clarke comment
OCCP has taken swift action on many fronts: the implementation of the Omnibus Directive, the regulation of influencer marketing and, recently, dark patterns. The Polish watchdog is not the only one who is interested in deceptive design. Recently, the UK regulator has been also very active in this field. The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) have prepared guidance on how online choice architecture can influence consumers' decisions about the way their personal information is used, in turn affecting consumer experiences online and competition outcomes. Please see more information on this topic in our Insight.