At their 18th conference, which ended in Weimar on Friday, the consumer protection ministers of the federal and state governments made a large number of resolutions, including in the areas of digital policy, climate protection and the energy transition. In a resolution on “digital sustainability”, the heads of state departments ask the federal government to “pay more attention to” this principle in the area of online offers.
Principle of data economy
The Conference of Consumer Protection Ministers (VSMK) also emphasizes that the principle of data economy anchored in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) should be taken into account in legislative projects at European and national level “to ensure a contribution to the sustainable use of energy resources”. In other words, less data traffic, for example by doing without streaming services, must be given more priority as a means of climate protection.
The committee also points out that the operation of digital infrastructures and, in particular, the production of the corresponding devices should be made more sustainable. They have climate-damaging rebound effects in mind: The constant further development in the digital world would create services, gadgets and applications “that trigger an enormous consumption of resources in terms of raw materials and energy, even in the periphery”. The sustainability of the supply chains should also be considered.
Repairability, usability and energy efficiency in software
The ministers ask the federal government to use targeted measures to strengthen the repairability and longer usability of the corresponding devices and to increase the energy efficiency of the production and usage chains. They emphasize “that the software products should also be sustainable and designed for energy saving and longevity”. Consumers would therefore have to be provided with program updates for their devices such as smartphones in the long term.
In this sense, the VSMK welcomes the law that came into force at the beginning of the year for an “update obligation for software products”, which is not specified in more detail. The federal government should check here whether, in addition to the sellers, “the manufacturers” of relevant goods and programs can also be claimed. It is also necessary to develop an information campaign “which includes the topic of digital sustainability with the different areas” and comprehensively enlightens consumers so that they “can make conscious purchasing and consumption decisions”.
Avoid e-waste – demand on environment and consumer protection minister
With another resolution, the heads of department are urging that electronic waste, for example around household electrical appliances or mobile phones, be avoided more stringently. They advocate an “extension of the service life” of such products. “With great interest” they are therefore following the “Thuringian repair bonus” launched in 2021 and recently renewed, as well as the comparable model introduced in Austria. Such programs could “basically be seen as an opportunity to promote the longer use of products alongside the effective enforcement of producer responsibility and thus contribute to a sustainable economy”.
Environment and Consumer Protection Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) is calling on the state ministers to examine various relevant measures. According to plans by the federal cabinet, the government had long wanted to adopt an action program with a right to repairs, but this was delayed for months. According to the VSMK, such a claim should be linked to a “meaningful repair index” if possible. This could include spare parts prices as an evaluation criterion.
“Self-determined use of purchase offers”
According to changes in consumer law, suppliers of supply contracts must introduce a mandatory online cancellation button for long-term obligations from July 1st. The VSMK praises this as well as the EU Commission’s proposal to introduce such a button solution for electronically concluded distance contracts for financial services. However, sector-specific approaches are insufficient. The ministers are therefore appealing to the federal government to work at European level and “for the mandatory introduction of a cross-sector electronic cancellation button” based on the model for long-term obligations.
The VSMK also complained with its package that “the self-determined use of purchase offers” by consumers within an internet application for in-app purchases is still not sufficiently guaranteed, despite improvements in the protection of minors, especially in the area of online gaming. They therefore advocate the introduction of a so-called redirect procedure with 2-factor authentication for payment transactions of any kind. In addition to information about the costs of the purchase, the total amounts of the order of the past 30 days and during the entire usage time are listed.
According to the ministers, another amendment to the youth protection law will ban gambling-like content such as “digital surprise bags” (loot boxes) as well as temporary bonuses and “in-game currencies” such as diamonds or gold coins that cover up expenses. Opportunities to cap the purchase price are also appropriate.
Crypto Trading Platforms, Dark Patterns and Fake Reviews
With the package of resolutions, the VSMK is also introducing stricter rules for online advertising for financial services. Above all, they have in mind crypto trading platforms for Bitcoin & Co. that operate deposit or securities trading transactions that require approval. Online platforms should be obliged to check at least the core statements, compliance with the advertiser’s approval requirements, the provision of an imprint, the identity and compliance with other relevant regulations for capital market players before placing advertisements.
The ministers are also calling for stronger action against design tricks by developers such as dark patterns and a criminal ban on trading in fake customer reviews on online marketplaces such as Amazon. In the area of energy transition, the VSMK is campaigning for easier participation by private households without home ownership “by relaxing spatial restrictions and simplifying tenant electricity” and making it easier for third parties to use it for e-mobility. The use of plug-in solar devices by tenants should be encouraged. The committee also believes that improved information on drive batteries in electric vehicles is necessary, especially “on the issues of performance, durability, CO2 balance, safety” and on disposal and recyclability.
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