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Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 10:35 UK

EU aims to aid net shoppers

By David Reid
Reporter, Click

David's tale of trying to get a refund on a product bought on the net

Have you ever bought something on the internet and found it does not turn up or it is not quite what you bargained for?

Shoppers worried about parting with their money online can now get practical advice about their digital entitlements.

The eYouGuide explains the rights of European consumers surfing the web or shopping in the digital marketplace.

The new online tool created by the European Commission (EC) also sets out a Digital Agenda of possible actions in the future.

It aims to ensure that some of the consumer rights taken for granted in the real world apply to products and services sold on the net.

Many consumers often find it is far harder to get a refund on an unsatisfactory product online, than it is doing it in an actual shop.

EU flags
The eYouGuide explains the rights EU consumers when shopping online

Customer power

One area targeted for improvement is the terms and conditions that buyers have often have to click to accept when making a purchase or signing up for a service.

The small print is often hard to understand because the legal jargon in which it is written means few people are prepared to try.

Konstantinos Rossoglou, legal officer at the European consumers' association BEUC, said most shoppers do not read terms and conditions online.

"Most consumers… just put 'yes I accept', and then they don't know what they have accepted," he said.

He added that failing to read the small print could disadvantage the customer.

He said many companies use the terms and conditions to: "limit their liability, to impose unfair restrictions on the use of their content, and even to restrict the applicable law."

We were so surprised that a regime that applies to simple material objects would be copied and pasted onto intangible software
Francisco Mingorance, Business Software Alliance

Level of liability

But the Digital Agenda is not without controversy - it could mean software manufacturers will be liable for bugs in code and compatibility issues that some claim are impossible to anticipate or fix.

Francisco Mingorance, from the Business Software Alliance which represents software makers, said it was unfair to expect the same level of liability from software manufacturers as from the makers of other goods.

He said that computer programs work as part of an environment, and it is not possible to take responsibility for how software interacts with someone else's components.

"If you buy a car or a fridge it is not going to upgraded in six months," he explained. "There is not going to be a new component that comes into play."

"That is why we were so surprised that a regime that applies to simple material objects would be copied and pasted onto intangible software," he said.

Small producers

Software producer Benjamin Henrion also fears a law change, meant to target big software developers, will hurt his small business.

Software producer Benjamin Henrion
Benjamin Henrion believes small software producers will be affected

Like many small independent developers, Mr Henrion uses open source code as a resource to build his software for business clients.

If there is a bug in the open source code he has used, he will not always know about it. As a small firm he cannot afford to get sued.

Developers currently use open source software without a warranty, but making them accountable for it could be "problematic", said Mr Henrion.

"Most of the time you don't review code you use; especially if you use libraries which means code you can integrate easily into your software," he said.

"Sometimes you discover bugs… so creating liabilities is especially bad for small producers because they don't have the means to fight a trial in court against a client," he said.



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