WebWise news report - Are you feeling ticked off?
Airlines could be amongst the companies hardest hit by EU legislation approved this week, which bans websites from using pre-ticked boxes.
The pre-ticked box has become a staple of the online consumer world, with customers easily finding themselves lumbered with extra charges after failing to spot that they had unwittingly signed up to buy an extra product. Travel insurance, for example, is often added on at the checkout stage of certain sites, with the onus on the consumer to opt out of paying for it by unchecking a box.
Under the EU's new Consumer Rights Directive, not only will pre-ticked boxes be banned, but consumers will receive greater refund rights, while businesses are required to provide better 'cost transparency' so online shoppers are saved from paying charges they weren't made aware of before placing an order. Websites will also no longer be able to add extra credit card surcharges above the cost of actually processing the payment.
The internet was previously a hotbed for hidden charges, scams and false advertising, but over the last few years the real world has started to catch up with the virtual one and websites are having to meet increasingly higher standards. At the heart of consumer online niggles are unsubstantiated claims and false advertising.
In March, the Advertising Standards Authority extended its remit to include companies advertising in non-paid-for space, as well as paid-for space. This means that if a business makes an unsubstantiated claim on their own site or even Twitter and Facebook, they could face an ASA ruling. When we consider how many issues still arise over television advertising – and how few channels there are compared to websites – bringing the online world up to standard will take a long time, if indeed it ever happens. But this week's approval of EU proposals is at least another reminder that, when it comes to that cyber world, we're not entirely on our own and there are authorities to turn to that can fight the web user's corner.
In the meantime, while websites get their act together, which won't be until late 2013 when the legislation becomes UK law, if you are shopping online, make sure your eye is constantly on the sub-total figure. I like to have a pen and paper handy to jot down prices so that when it comes to the final checkout screen, I have a good idea of what I should be paying – and then can spot any boxes that might have been checked for me.
To learn more about their work, go to the Advertising Standards Authority website.
Or, if you think you've been ripped off, and would quite like Gloria Hunniford on the case, get in touch with Rip off Britain.
For help shopping online, follow the BBC WebWise guide.