Coronavirus: Online platforms remove ‘millions’ of misleading ads

Online platforms have removed or blocked millions of misleading advertisements or product listings promoting false claims or scam products in the context of the coronavirus after the European Commission co-ordinated a screening (“sweep”) of websites, the Commission said on May 26.

The Commission said that the move was part of its commitment to protect consumers online.

The sweep – carried out by the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Network – consisted of two parts: a high-level screening of online platforms, and an in-depth analysis of specific advertisements and websites linked to products in high demand because of the coronavirus.

The consumer protection authorities of the 27 EU countries participated in the high-level screening of platforms and submitted 126 replies concerning both the companies with which the Commission has been in regular contact and additional national players.

Particular attention was given to screening offers linked to protective masks and caps, sanitising gels, testing kits as well as food, food supplements and non-food products with alleged healing effects related to the coronavirus.

In 38 cases, consumer protection authorities found a number of dubious offers or adverts concerning products misleadingly promoted in the context of the coronavirus, broad claims that a product was able to prevent or cure infection, and excessive prices.

In addition, this screening revealed that rogue traders are using new predatory practices that make it more difficult to find them, such as implicit claims of curing qualities of products with pictures or graphic illustrations, or even intentional misspellings to avoid automatic text based filters, the Commission said.

“Overall, the screening has shown that the ongoing exchange between the Commission and the major online platforms is bearing fruit.” the statement said.

It said that for example, Google has blocked or removed over 80 million coronavirus-related ads (globally), eBay has blocked or removed more than 17 million listings from its global marketplace that violate EU consumer rules; and Amazon observed a 77 per cent decrease in the weekly number of new product listings with coronavirus-related claims compared to March.

Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, said: “The major online platforms have positively replied to the European Commission’s call to address scams and misleading offers and have shown a clear commitment to remove harmful content.

“However, as this recent sweep has shown, rogue traders continue to find new ways to exploit consumers’ vulnerabilities, circumvent algorithmic checks and set up new websites. In the midst of a global pandemic, you need to be aware of this as a consumer – there are no miracle online cures.

“I am grateful that national consumer authorities remain on high alert and are working together with the Commission to protect consumers online,” Reynders said.

(Photo: André Rainaud/

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The Sofia Globe staff

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