Welcome

The Consumers’ Association wish to welcome the participants to the Second Enforcement Steering Group Meeting & Redress Expert Meeting which is being organised by BEUC in Malta.

We wish every success to this meeting as the subjects to be tackled during the meeting are of direct interest to Maltese consumers.  Amongst them one finds the developments in the VW case and further enforcements action by BEUC members.  Another topic to be discussed is enforcement in the field of internet of things which also includes connected toys, an example of which is My friend Cayla which we featured some months ago.

Mothercare – the first step has been take but….

Geoblocking restricts the rights of consumers to buy from wherever they want.  Online shopping facilitated shopping across borders – something which for a small country like ours is vital for the consumer as the choice is limited and prices are high.  This opportunity to buy online put pressure on local providers to increase choice and reduce prices.  However, online shopping also made it easier to restrict shopping across borders as it is easier to identify the location of the consumer and thus block.

During the past year, within the EU steps were taken to restrict geo-blocking.  However, enforcement, as usual, is weak.  At the beginning of January, the Association tested two sites – Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.  In both cases, we noticed that Maltese consumers were not allowed to shop from the UK websites.

The Association wrote to both Marks & Spencer and Mothercare protesting that geoblocking on their sites is discriminating against Maltese consumers and we informed both that we would be launching a campaign against them.   In both cases, it was noted that when one tried to shop from their websites, one is in the final stages of ordering a product and is asked to insert the location where the products should be sent, Malta was not included on the list of countries where products could be delivered.

We are glad to note that in the case of Mothercare the first steps to end geoblocking had been taken.  In the case of Mothercare, one could ask for the products to be sent to Malta.

However, this is only the first step.  The attraction of  Mothercare website has been marred as one would still not be able to buy many of the offers.  Apart from this, the postage charges that they are asking are exorbitant and in most cases higher than the product itself.

As we said the first steps had been taken but it is a long way to ensure that consumers would really benefit from the Single Market.

AGM – 2017

Consumer’s Association

Annual General Conference 2017

 

The Annual General Conference will be held on Tuesday 28 March 2017 at Associations’ office, South Street Valletta at 6.00pm.

Nominations for the post of Chairman, General Secretary, Financial Secretary and Members on Council will be received from registered members till 24 ta’ March 2017.  Nominations are to be signed by the nominated person, the person nominating the candidate and another member and be sent to the General Secretary 47A South Street Valletta.

 

E Chetcuti

Ghaqda tal-Konsumaturi

10 March 2017

Marks & Spencer – discriminates against Maltese consumers

Geoblocking is supposed to have finished but most firms who have at least an outlet in Malta still continue this practice.  Marks & Spencer is one of them.  In the coming weeks we would also mention other firms which discriminate against consumers who live in Malta.

Geoblocking has several detrimental effects.  On a European level, it disregards the objective of working towards a Single Market.  On a national level, it discriminates against consumers on the basis of nationality.  Consumers in such situations as in Malta would be both restricted in the choice and also have to pay a higher price.  The range of products and special offers which are offered online are usually much wider.  Apart from this, the products are not the latest that the firm offers and the prices are much higher.

As we said Marks & Spencer discriminates against consumers who live in Malta.  On visiting the site (http://www.marksandspencer.com/), everything is normal until one reaches the insertion of the address.  As one opens the country, one finds that Malta is missing (see picture).  Thus one will not be able to continue with the purchase.

We wrote to Marks & Spencer but to date, we did not receive any reply.  We will continue our pressure on such traders who discriminate against consumers who are living in Malta.

On your part, would you continue to buy from a firm or its local outlet which discriminates against you?!

 

3rd March 2017

Consumer Wins

The months of January and February 2017 can be marked as two months which were synonymous with consumer wins in the telecommunications area.  This is the result of the work which had been done behind closed doors by the Maltese Presidency both in Malta and in Brussels.

The first consumer win was with regard to roaming charges.    In October 2015 the EU decided to abolish retail roaming fees as of June 2017. But there was one final step for that new rule to be applicable: wholesale markets needed to be reformed.  In the meantime pressure started mounting on the EU by telecom operators to postpone and keep roaming charges high.

In June 2016 the European Commission published a proposal to reform the wholesale market. In just 7 months, the EU co-legislators agreed on this reform. Consumer organisations, including ours, are quite satisfied with the end-result. The new wholesale price caps are as follows:

o   Voice: 3.2cents/min

o   SMS: 1cent/min

o   Data:

  • 2017: 7.7€/Gb
  • 2018: 6€/Gb
  • 2019: 4.5€/Gb
  • 2020: 3.5€/Gb
  • 2021: 3€/Gb
  • 2022: 2.5€/Gb

This was a result of the work done by the Maltese Presidency which took over from the Slovakian Presidency at the beginning of this year and made this challenge as a key political priority.  This involved working up a deal between the institutions. This was not an easy task especially as some big member States such as Germany and France have been very strongly pushing against a significant decrease of these wholesale prices.

The significance of this deal can be seen from the fact that at April 2016 consumers used to pay 200€ for 1 GB of roaming data.  As from June they will be paying 7.7€/Gb.

The second win which occurred in the beginning of February deals with online subscriptions when travelling.  More and more consumers pay for subscriptions to watch TV series or listen to music.  Currently, consumers are often blocked from accessing their paid-for music streaming, video game or video-on-demand services when travelling to another EU country.

However, a deal which was reached at the beginning of February between European Parliament and Member State representatives would allow consumers who travel to another EU country to use their online subscriptions – for instance their Amazon Prime or Netflix streaming service – when abroad.

These new rules will apply to all current and new subscriptions without extra charges or time limits.

Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented:

“This is very good news for EU consumers. Artificial barriers blocking you from using your online video, music or game subscription contradict the very principle of a single market. Today we are getting one step closer to a digital single market that delivers for consumers.”

Now that roaming fees are becoming a thing of the past people will really benefit from their paid-for content when travelling.

 

 

 

Best Wishes

The Council  of the Consumers’ Association – Malta wishes all consumers a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Be Careful! Internet connected toys

Christmas is near and most have already started buying presents.  These when directed at children are usually toys and the latest most advanced are usually the most attractive and the first choice.

This year internet connected toys were introduced on the European Market and though locally, as far as we know, are not available they can be obtained online.   Recently, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) examined three toys Hello Barbie, My Friend Cayla and i-Que.  The first two are dolls and are directed at girls while the third is a robot directed at boys.

In its analysis at the terms and the technical features NCC found that there is a serious lack of understanding of children’s rights to privacy and security.

The toys fail at several points

In their review of the toys, the Consumer Council has found several serious issues:

  1. Lack of safety
    With simple steps, anyone can take control of the toys through a mobile phone. This makes it possible to talk and listen through the toy without having physical access to the toy. This lack of safety could easily have been prevented, for example by making physical access to the toy required, or by requiring the user to press a button when pairing their phone with the toy.

 

  1. Illegal user terms
    Before using the toy, users must consent to the terms being changed without notice, that personal data can be used for targeted advertising, and that information may be shared with unnamed 3rd parties. This and other discoveries are, in the NCC’s opinion, in breach of the EU Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the EU Data Protection Directive and the Toy Safety Directive.
  1. Kids’ secrets are shared
    Anything the child tells the doll is transferred to the U.S.-based company Nuance Communications, who specialize in speech recognition technologies. The company reserves the right to share this information with other third parties, and to use speech data for a wide variety of purposes.
  2. Kids are subject to hidden marketing
    The toys are embedded with pre-programmed phrases, where they endorse different commercial products. For example, Cayla will happily talk about how much she loves different Disney movies. Meanwhile, the app-provider has a commercial relationship with Disney.

Consumer tips

  1. If you do not want the toy, check if the shop accepts returns. You can cancel the purchase within 14 days if you bought the toy online.
  1. Not happy with the toy? Let the shop and the producer know what you think. This might prevent toys with similar shortcomings from entering the market.
  1. Talk to your child about what the toy is and what it can do, and what it means that the toy is connected to the Internet.
  1. Check how the toy responds to questions. The toys come with many pre-programmed phrases, but can also get answers from Wikipedia.
  1. Remember to turn off the toy when not in use, so you have control over who connects to the toy.

You may view the video about the risks of internet connected toys HERE.

The following are the two reports published by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

toyfail_report_desember2016

2016-11-technical-analysis-of-the-dolls

BEUC delegation meet Malta Presidency

On the 25th November, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and its Maltese member Ghaqda tal-Konsumaturi met Dr Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties to present their expectations for Malta’s EU Council Presidency. During the meeting, the consumer delegation asked Minister Dalli to advance consumer interests in the Digital Single Market and to make enforcement of consumer rights a top priority for the EU.

In light of the 25,000 deaths attributed each year to antimicrobial resistance, BEUC and its Maltese member organisation stressed that the two pending EU proposals on veterinary medicines and medicated feed should be adopted swiftly in order to tackle the misuse of antibiotics in livestock.

Örjan Brinkman, president of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented:

“The European Commission wants to make the EU fit for the digital age. This will however only happen if consumers trust the digital economy and can choose from the best offers online. Concretely, consumers should be able to access the online goods and services of any trader in the EU. It is hardly a Digital Single Market if traders can erect artificial barriers to the detriment of consumers.

“It is common knowledge – and not just since the VW scandal – that company misbehaviour usually does not stop at the border. To reign in rule-breaking companies and bring justice to consumers, it is crucial that enforcers work together. We want the Maltese government to help wrap up the pending EU proposal on the cross-border infringements of consumer rights.”

Benny Borg Bonello, president of the Consumers’ Association of Malta, said:

“The EU law that will make everyday consumer protects safer and strengthen market surveillance has been inexplicably stalled for the past three years. The risks of exploding tumble dryers and toxic toys are real. We are counting on the Maltese government to break the gridlock.”

beuc                                                                                       ghaqda-logo

 

One can view the document prepared for the Malta Presidency here.

Competition Office lacks will to investigate

At the beginning of October, the Office of Competition of the MCCAA published its decision regarding an investigation on the distribution of diesel. The investigation started after a petrol station in Rabat reduced the price of diesel but had to revert back to the set price after being pressured to do so by the supplier.

The Association in its request to the Competition Office to investigate this incident also asked for an investigation on the distribution of both diesel and petrol since we believe that the incident reported is not an exceptional incident but the current situation. However, in spite of this request and the fact that the Office took more than one and a half year to investigate this incident, the Office did not pronounce itself on this issue.

In our press statement on the decision, we commented that we were disappointed that the Office did not investigate this market. In its comments on our press release to the Times of Malta, the Competition Office spokesman, however, said that “parallel behaviour alone between competitors is normally not sufficient to prove the existence of unlawful anti­competitive behaviour”.  Moreover, the spokesman quoted the legislation to try to justify their lack of action.

The Association believes that the law is there to give authorities direction and not to inhibit them from investigating. Unfortunately, many a time the law is used as an excuse to justify inaction. This is not the first time that Offices within the MCCAA used this tactic. One example was when the Consumers’ Appeal Tribunal decided in favour of the Association when it took action against the Consumers’ Affairs Office because it did not investigate the Association complaints against ARRIVA.   On that occasion, this MCCAA’s Office also used the legislation to justify their inaction.

It seems that the Office for Competition wanted to take us for a ride. Parallel behaviour does not prove the existence of unlawful anti-competitive behaviour. But it does give ground for an investigation. The investigation would not have taken many resources as all it needed to do was to inspect the contracts that the petrol stations have with their suppliers. All it takes is the will to ensure that competition is the order of the day and that its benefits are transferred to consumers – something that this Office does not have.

The seriousness of this decision of not taking any action is not a light one. It should be noted that diesel is the fuel most used by industry and businesses especially to transport goods.   Thus in order not to disturb a few operators and the organisation behind them, this Office is depriving the whole economy, including most businesses, of the benefits that could be reaped if this important market were truly competitive.

Fantasy Tours – From Dreams to Smoke to a Solution

From dreams of a fantasy tour some years ago consumers faced the stark reality that they lost both their dream and the money forked out to make a dream come true went up in smoke when Fantasy Tours closed shop.  This happened because for a period of more than 10 years, in spite that Parliament approved, Ministers responsible for Tourism in two other administrations did not implement a provision which would have set up an Insolvency Fund to protect consumers when a package tour operator goes bust.

Consumers were encouraged to register to the MCCAA as they would be covered by the provider’s insurance.  In spite of this for a long period of time nothing happened and consumers were left in the dark.  Out of the blues, they received a letter from the same MCCAA that there was nothing that the Authority could do and consumers were encouraged to file claims against the Directors.

This was the situation when the Consumers’ Association – Malta decided to help these consumers.  We realised that this was no solution as the chances for redress were not only expensive both in terms of money and time but minimal.  The Consumers’ Association – Malta argued that the situation in which these consumers found themselves in was due to the fact that the State of Malta through these administrations did not implement these regulations and thus was responsible for the damage they suffered.

We organised these consumers who cooperated by providing us with the data of their personal experience.  We contacted the government and also provided this data for the government to assess.  The discussions took months but finally the problem has been solved without any expense to these consumers.

In fact, Minister Dr Edward Zammit Lewis announced this earlier this week in Parliament.  The Association would like to thank the Government especially the Prime Minister, Minister Zammit Lewis and Minister Dalli for their support.

 

We take this opportunity to thank Dr Antoine Grima who was vital in this campaign.  We also thank all the others, particularly a number of University students studying Laws and other volunteers within the CA, who helped to organise this campaign.

 

30.10.16