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Privacy kitemark urged on websites

News, 21 April 2016

LONDON: A kitemark system should be introduced on all websites and apps in the European Union so that consumers can see which ones can be trusted, a UK parliamentary committee has recommended.

The EU Select Committee in the House of Lords, the UK's upper house, said a traffic-light style system (green, amber, red) would help to protect consumers' data and privacy, TechCrunch reported.

"This, we believe, will encourage platforms to compete against each other to improve standards on transparency, privacy and the use of personal data," said Lord Whitty, the committee chairman.

The committee, which has been investigating the practices of online platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, concluded that a new regulatory system was not required.

But it called for existing consumer protection laws to be updated and enforced to ensure online platforms are transparent about how they use personal data and present search results, including ratings and reviews.

"Companies such as Google, Airbnb, and Uber are not only pioneers of innovation, and key drivers of growth, but they potentially wield enormous power over consumers and businesses, and must do so responsibly," Lord Whitty continued.

However, the committee reserved its most withering criticism for online travel agents, who were accused of exploiting, misleading and ripping off customers to such an extent that the committee called for an urgent investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The committee said that it had even been told of online travel agents who had intimidated hotels that offered better deals to their competitors.

"We heard of an array of worrying practices by websites that simply aren't transparent enough and leave consumers vulnerable to exploitation – from fake reviews to personalised pricing, from baffling privacy agreements, to rigged displays of search results," said Lord Whitty.

In reference to price parity clauses, he added: "Even though some of these price restrictions have been banned, we heard allegations that online travel agents had intimidated hotels for offering better deals to their competitors."

Data sourced from TechCrunch, Daily Mail; additional content by Warc staff