From smartwatches to connected dolls, Brussels wants to crack down on the cybersecurity risks lurking in our gadgets, while ensuring that dangerous products are pulled from the market more swiftly.
The European Commission is pitching new consumer protection rules tailored to the digital era that would require online marketplaces to remove any unsafe products from their sites without undue delay – or face hefty fines.
The proposal aims to update the 2001 General Product Safety Directive, which pre-dates the boom of online platforms, artificial intelligence, and connected devices.
In recent years, easily hackable connected dolls or child-tracking smartwatches have drawn attention to the risks of seeing digital devices turned into potential spying or kidnapping tools.
German regulators, for instance, banned the My Friend Cayla doll over privacy concerns in 2017.
The European Commission is now striking back, updating its definition of product safety to include "the appropriate cybersecurity features necessary to protect the product against external influences, including malicious third parties, when such an influence might have an impact on the safety of the product".
BEUC, the European consumer rights group, welcomes the plan.
"We must remember that the safety of day-to-day products is the most basic consumer right. Keeping safety legislation up to date is therefore paramount," BEUC Director General Monique Goyens said in a statement.
"This EU proposal is a significant step to improve the safety of products, especially as it recognises that the concept of 'safety' in 2021 must encompass 'cybersecurity'".
New rules for online marketplaces
The updated rules also make online marketplaces responsible for the products featured on their platforms. If they fail to remove a dangerous product from their pages within two working days, they would face fines of at least 4 percent of their annual turnover in the EU countries concerned.
The regulation would in parallel boost the powers of national authorities, allowing them to disable the web pages of dangerous products or display “an explicit warning” to consumers who access them.
The European Commission is also working to ensure that product recalls are more engaging – featuring clear descriptions, including a photograph, name, and brand of the product – and that they avoid any phrasing that may appear to downplay risks.
Companies issuing safety warnings on their products will be required to contact affected consumers directly whenever possible, and offer them the possibility to provide contact details for safety purposes only.
The Commission’s proposal now has to be discussed by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament.