Online platforms removed millions of misleading ads on COVID-19 related products

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To continue efforts against consumer scams and misleading practices related to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Consumer Protection (CPC) network, under the coordination of the European Commission, launched on 30 April a so-called “sweep” of COVID-19 related scam products advertised on websites and online platforms.  A “sweep” is normally a set of checks carried out on websites simultaneously to identify breaches of EU consumer law in a particular sector.

The results of this sweep have been recently published by the European Commission, showing that platforms have removed or blocked millions of misleading advertisements or product listings in relation to the Coronavirus. Justice and Consumers Commissioner Didier Reynders declared to be very satisfied that “the major online platforms have positively replied to the Commission’s call to address scams and misleading offers and have shown a clear commitment to remove harmful content”. For example, eBay has blocked or removed more than 17 million listings from its global marketplace that violate EU consumer rules and Amazon observed a 77% decrease in the weekly number of new product listings with coronavirus-related claims compared to March.

More in details, the CPC authorities of 27 countries participated in sweep and submitted 126 replies concerning both the companies with which the Commission has been in regular contact and additional national players. The main target of the sweep was offers linked to products such as protective masks and caps, sanitizing gels, testing kits as well as food, food supplements and non-food products with alleged healing effects on COVID-19.

CPC authorities found a number of dubious offers or adverts concerning products misleadingly promoted, claims that a product was able to prevent or heal the virus, and excessive prices. The sweep involved 268 websites, 206 of which were flagged for further investigation for potential breaches of EU consumer law. The sweep also shows that rogue traders are using new predatory practices that make it more difficult to find them, such as implicit claims of curing qualities of products with pictures or graphic illustrations, or intentional misspellings to avoid automatic text based filters.

Following the sweep, the European Commission updated its advice to consumers (available here) in relation to COVID-19 ads and offers, and has called on platforms to remain vigilant and continue with their efforts. The Commission will coordinate cooperation between CPC authorities and domain registers, which may be requested to take down harmful websites.

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