Pathways to a fairer digital world: shaping EU rules to increase consumer protection and choice online

In the evolving digital landscape, where every click, swipe, and interaction shapes people’s daily lives, the need for robust consumer protection has never been more paramount. The propagation of deceptive design practices, aggressive personalization, and proliferation of fake reviews have the potential to limit or distort choices online and harm people, particularly the most vulnerable, by tricking them into taking actions that are not in their best interest, causing financial loss, loss of privacy, security, and well-being.

At Mozilla, we are committed to building a healthy Internet – an Internet that respects fundamental rights and constitutes a space where individuals can genuinely exercise their choices. Principles 4 and 5 of our Manifesto state that individuals must have the ability to shape the internet and their own experiences on it, while their security and privacy are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. In today’s interconnected world, these are put at stake.

Voluntary commitments by industry are not sufficient, and legislation can play a crucial role in regulating such practices. Recent years have seen the EU act as a pioneer when it comes to online platform regulation. Updating existing EU consumer protection rules and ensuring strong and coherent enforcement of existing legislation will build on this framework to further protect EU citizens in the digital age.

Below, we summarise our recommendations to EU policymakers ahead of the next European Commission mandate 2024-2029 to build a fairer digital world for users and consumers:

  • Addressing harmful design practices – Harmful design practices in digital experiences – such as those that coerce, manipulate, or deceive consumers – are increasingly compromising user autonomy and reducing choice. They not only thrive at the interface level but also lie deeper in the system’s architecture. We advocate for a clear shift towards ethical digital design through stronger regulation, particularly as technology evolves. This would include stronger enforcement of existing regulations addressing harmful design practices (e.g., GDPR, DSA, DMA). At the same time, the EU should update its consumer protection rules to prohibit milder ‘dark patterns’ and introduce an anti-circumvention clause to ensure that no bypassing of legal requirements by design techniques will be possible.
  • Balancing personalization & privacy online –  Personalization in digital services enhances user interaction but poses significant privacy risks and potential biases, leading to the exposure of sensitive information and societal inequalities. To address these issues, our key recommendations include the adoption of rules that will ensure the enforcement of consumer choices given through consent processes. Such rules should also incentivise the use and uptake of privacy-enhancing technologies through legislation (e.g. Consumer Rights Directive) to strike the right balance between personalization practices and respect of privacy online.
  • Tackling fake reviews – The growing problem of fake reviews on online platforms has the potential to mislead consumers and distort product value. We recommend stronger enforcement of existing rules, meaningful transparency measures, including explicit disclosure requirements for incentivized reviews, increased accountability for consumer-facing online platforms, and consistency across the EU and internationally in review handling to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of online reviews.
  • Rethinking the ‘average consumer’ – The traditional definition of the ‘average consumer’ in EU consumer law is characterised as “reasonably well informed, observant, and circumspect”. The digital age directly challenges this definition as consumers are increasingly more vulnerable online. Due to the ever-growing information asymmetry between traders and consumers, the yardstick of an ‘average consumer’ does not necessarily reflect existing consumer behaviour. For that reason, we ask for the reevaluation of this concept to reflect today’s reality. Such an update will actively lower the existing threshold and thus increase the overall level of protection and prevent the exploitation of vulnerable groups, especially in personalised commercial practices.

To read our detailed position, click here.