On 24 October 2017, the Bundeskartellamt (German Federal Cartel Office – FCO) announced that it had launched a sector inquiry into online price comparison websites focused on travel, insurance, financial services, telecommunications and energy.
The FCO will survey selected website operators by the end of this year on questions concerning rankings, financing, corporate links, reviews, and availability or relevant market coverage.
The sector inquiry is intended to identify possible deficiencies in the private and public enforcement of consumer rights in this business sector. The resulting report may help indicate how the FCO can enforce fair trading rules to protect German consumers.
According to the FCO, information provided by trade and consumer associations has shown that problems with comparison websites should be dealt with in a more fundamental way than by individual court proceedings. Since bookings involving substantial amounts and extensive contract agreements are influenced by the information published on price comparison websites, the FCO aims to ensure consumers will be able to count on the reliability, objectivity and transparency of these websites.
After the promulgation of the 9th Amendment to the German Competition Act (GWB) on 8 June 2017, the FCO is allowed to launch a sector inquiry if there is reasonable suspicion that significant, permanent or repeated infringements have occurred that affect a large number of consumers. As with a sector inquiry for the protection of competition, a sector inquiry in the area of consumer rights under Section 32e(5) of the GWB is not targeted against individual companies, but is meant to examine the conditions of a specific market or economic sector.
The results of the inquiry will be used to evaluate how the FCO could support efforts to eliminate unfair trade practices and thereby protect a large number of consumers in the German market. In order to pursue the objective of consumer protection, the FCO has furthermore announced that it is considering whether to launch another sector inquiry in the area of consumer problems in everyday digital life by the end of the year.