The launch of smart home technologies and social media functionalities enabling quick purchases hides the risks of lack of compliance with European e-commerce and distance regulations.

It is the week of the Salone del Mobile, the Milan furniture fair which is the largest event of the year in Milan (maybe after the EXPO of this year!), where innovative furnitures are always showcased and smart home will not be missing!  This happens just when new smart home products allowing immediate purchases of consumables through a mere “click” on a button have been launched.

Smart home rules not for smart buttons?

Such kind of technologies are not yet available in Europe, but I started thinking about the regulatory framework in which they would operate.  European privacy regulators already discussed about smart homes in their opinion on the Internet of Things.   But privacy compliance is not the sole issue for smart home technologies.

E-Commerce transactions in Europe are regulated by the E-Commerce Directive adopted in 2000 and distance contracts are governed by the more recent Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EC.   Kevin Ashton had already forged the term “Internet of Things” in 1999, but the European Parliament both in 2000 and in 2011 when they reinforced consumer protections in distance contracts did not think about the “smart buttons“.

Information obligations

And indeed, both directives provide very stringent information obligations relating for instance to the right of withdrawal to be accomplished prior to the purchase which might be difficult to perform through the information available on a simple button!  Likewise, what happens if the price has changed between the time when the consumer last reviewed it and the next purchase?  Is the information provided at the time when the settings of the button are determined sufficient?

And in case of social media?

Similar hurdles are faced also by social media that are launching new functionalities aimed at linking the display of an advertising message to the possibility to perform an immediate purchase of the displayed item.  Shall the message banners on social media be reformatted so that all the regulatory information is displayed?

The consequences

There might be solutions aimed at circumventing such regulatory boundaries, but there is no doubt that regulators shall also think about more flexible provisions to be adapted to technological developments.  Transparency is a “must” for distance contracts, but there are different ways to ensure that.