"Fit & fair by design": For more fairness in the digital space

  • BMUV and Bitkom organise event to mark Safer Internet Day 

Berlin, 06.02.2024 - Does European consumer law ensure fair conditions on the digital market? To answer this question, the EU Commission has launched a consultation for a Digital Fairness Fitness Check. Today's Safer Internet Day conference is dedicated to the topic under the heading "Fit & fair by design - Does European consumer protection need an update?". The conference is being organised by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) and the Bitkom e.V. association.

Federal Consumer Protection Minister Steffi Lemke: "Misleading, manipulative or even addictive practices by digital services and applications are unfortunately widespread in the digital space. The results of a survey commissioned by the BMUV show that consumers perceive practices such as endless scrolling and autoplay as manipulative and annoying and the majority see a need for regulation. With the Digital Services Act, we have put a stop to such practices on online platforms. The task now is to close the remaining protection gaps in EU consumer law in order to create an effective legal framework. It is therefore good that the EU Commission is subjecting consumer law to a digital fitness check."

Bitkom President Dr Ralf Wintergerst: "In order for Germany to play a leading role in digitalisation, consumer trust in the offerings of the digital economy is essential. In fact, 39 per cent of Germans who use the internet today say that they feel they are treated more fairly by online services than by traditional local services. Conversely, 33 per cent feel they are treated more fairly in traditional shops than online. This shows that consumer protection regulation at national and European level over the past decade has already reduced practices that are considered unfair, such as dark patterns, data misuse or non-transparent online advertising. In light of technological developments such as artificial intelligence, it is necessary to constantly review consumer law to ensure that it ensures fair conditions on the market. At the same time, it must ensure that people in Germany can also benefit from the many technological innovations in Germany. The focus should be on effective, consumer-orientated implementation of existing information obligations. Simply adding more texts or banners will not lead to people being better informed or better protected. Companies also have a responsibility to ensure that people can navigate the digital world safely and confidently."

In order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalisation, it is important to use technical possibilities in a targeted manner, counteract risks and thus further strengthen consumer confidence in the digital space. The past decade has already brought about various regulations at German and European level that address risks such as fraud, unfair practices and data misuse. However, increasingly complex business models, so-called misleading, manipulative and addictive designs ("dark patterns") and offers personalised with the help of artificial intelligence and big data pose new challenges for consumers. As digitalisation progresses, it is therefore crucial to review consumer law to determine whether it ensures fair conditions on the market. Against this backdrop, the European Commission's Digital Fairness Fitness Check will subject EU consumer law to a comprehensive suitability test with regard to digital fairness.

To ensure that the digital space is fair, the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection is committed to ensuring that products and services are consistently fair and ethical "by design" from the outset and that this is anchored in an appropriate regulatory framework. At European level, for example, the BMUV has advocated for the rights of consumers and the responsible use of AI, particularly with regard to artificial intelligence (AI) as a pioneering technology in the AI Regulation. With the Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) initiative, the Ministry of Consumer Protection is also working to make corporate digital responsibility a matter of course. The CDR Code provides corresponding guidance. In addition, the BMUV promotes joint campaigns by the 16 consumer advice centres, including the "Economic Consumer Protection" project, which inform consumers about consumer rights in the digital world and digital self-protection.

As a partner of the "Digital for All" initiative, the digital association Bitkom promotes the sovereignty of consumers in the digital world and thus contributes to strengthening trust in the digital space. On 7 June, the fifth nationwide Digital Day will take place, which was launched by an alliance of more than 25 organisations from the fields of civil society, culture, science, business, welfare and the public sector. The day of action brings digitalisation to life with over 2,000 events and helps to promote digital participation. With its "Smart School" competition, Bitkom also honours digital pioneer schools that offer innovative pedagogical concepts and comprehensive teacher training in addition to good technical equipment and thus prepare their pupils for the digital world. Since 2016, the network has grown to over 115 locations in Germany. The Bitkom Academy is the first point of contact for the training and further education of specialists and managers in a digitalising world of work. With over 350 training courses per year in the areas of digital transformation, big data & AI, IT security, sustainability, data protection and law & regulation, the Bitkom Academy makes a decisive contribution to Germany's digitalisation and technological expertise.