Brit competition regulator will soon be able to seize rogue traders' domains – and even Amazon accounts

Wide-ranging powers come into force in June

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will soon acquire new EU-derived powers allowing it to seize control of rogue traders' eBay and Amazon accounts, and even their entire websites, if it thinks "consumer interests" might be being harmed.

New legal amendments coming into force in June will let the CMA apply for "online interface orders", giving it a wide range of potential measures over business websites and accounts on large platforms.

People and companies targeted by the new orders, a creation of a new EU consumer protection regulation, could be forced to delete their websites or parts of them, disable or restrict access to them, "display a warning to consumers", or even transfer an entire domain name into the CMA's control.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed to The Register that the new powers are entering UK law as a result of changes made at EU level. The new Consumer Protection (Enforcement) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2020 extend competition regulators' powers over so-called "online interfaces".

As defined in the new regs, which come into force on 2 June, "online platform" means "any software, including a website, part of a website or an application, that is operated by or on behalf of a trader, and which serves to give consumers access to the trader's goods and services."

To safeguard the public from misuse of the new powers, the CMA will have to apply to a court and convince a judge that there is no other way to stop a rogue trader apart from seizure and/or deletion of their website or online sales accounts.

Neil Brown, tech lawyer behind firm, told The Register: "Given the current debates about the imposition of a nebulous 'duty of care' on platforms, it's pleasing to see an approach centred on judicial oversight, in the form of a court order. This should give confidence to a platform on the receiving end of one of these orders that the action they are being compelled to take has received a reasonable degree of independent scrutiny."

He added: "Sod knows how they came up with the term 'online interface', though."

A BEIS spokesman told The Register: "Consumers should be able to trust online markets, and this new unparalleled power will strengthen protection by allowing the CMA to remove online content when it threatens consumers' interests. We will work closely with industry and regulators to ensure the new powers remain proportionate and effective."

Website seizure powers exist elsewhere in the world, most notably in America. Whatever safeguards exist over there didn't stop the Department of Homeland Security from helping itself to the dot-com domain of a Brighton-based ad agency earlier this year. Despite a department employee admitting it was a cockup over mistaken identity, the domain was only returned to its rightful owners after the ad agency agreed to sign a waiver promising not to sue for damages.

Hopefully the UK system's safeguards will amount to more than a judicial rubber stamp. ®

Other stories you might like

  • DigitalOcean tries to take sting out of price hike with $4 VM
    Cloud biz says it is reacting to customer mix largely shifting from lone devs to SMEs

    DigitalOcean attempted to lessen the sting of higher prices this week by announcing a cut-rate instance aimed at developers and hobbyists.

    The $4-a-month droplet — what the infrastructure-as-a-service outfit calls its virtual machines — pairs a single virtual CPU with 512 MB of memory, 10 GB of SSD storage, and 500 GB a month in network bandwidth.

    The launch comes as DigitalOcean plans a sweeping price hike across much of its product portfolio, effective July 1. On the low-end, most instances will see pricing increase between $1 and $16 a month, but on the high-end, some products will see increases of as much as $120 in the case of DigitalOceans’ top-tier storage-optimized virtual machines.

    Continue reading
  • GPL legal battle: Vizio told by judge it will have to answer breach-of-contract claims
    Fine-print crucially deemed contractual agreement as well as copyright license in smartTV source-code case

    The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has won a significant legal victory in its ongoing effort to force Vizio to publish the source code of its SmartCast TV software, which is said to contain GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 copyleft-licensed components.

    SFC sued Vizio, claiming it was in breach of contract by failing to obey the terms of the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 licenses that require source code to be made public when certain conditions are met, and sought declaratory relief on behalf of Vizio TV owners. SFC wanted its breach-of-contract arguments to be heard by the Orange County Superior Court in California, though Vizio kicked the matter up to the district court level in central California where it hoped to avoid the contract issue and defend its corner using just federal copyright law.

    On Friday, Federal District Judge Josephine Staton sided with SFC and granted its motion to send its lawsuit back to superior court. To do so, Judge Staton had to decide whether or not the federal Copyright Act preempted the SFC's breach-of-contract allegations; in the end, she decided it didn't.

    Continue reading
  • US brings first-of-its-kind criminal charges of Bitcoin-based sanctions-busting
    Citizen allegedly moved $10m-plus in BTC into banned nation

    US prosecutors have accused an American citizen of illegally funneling more than $10 million in Bitcoin into an economically sanctioned country.

    It's said the resulting criminal charges of sanctions busting through the use of cryptocurrency are the first of their kind to be brought in the US.

    Under the United States' International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEA), it is illegal for a citizen or institution within the US to transfer funds, directly or indirectly, to a sanctioned country, such as Iran, Cuba, North Korea, or Russia. If there is evidence the IEEA was willfully violated, a criminal case should follow. If an individual or financial exchange was unwittingly involved in evading sanctions, they may be subject to civil action. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022