EU court hits out against pre-ticked boxes for online consumers

Ebookers.com may not include cancellation insurance online by default

In a decision that may have consequences for how service charges are presented on websites, Europe's highest court ruled on Thursday that websites selling airline tickets cannot have the "include flight cancellation insurance" box ticked by default.

The European Court of Juctice (ECJ) ruled that flight cancellation insurance as an optional supplement can only be offered on an opt-in basis following a case brought by a German consumer organisation against Ebookers.com, the online travel agency.

The case to prevent Ebookers from automatically including cancellation insurance with the air fare was first brought before the Higher Regional Court in Cologne, Germany, which then referred it to the ECJ.

The court pointed out, in its ruling, that European Union law seeks to ensure that there is information and transparency with regard to the prices for air services, and thus contributes to safeguarding customer protection. That requirement is designed to prevent a customer from being induced to purchase additional services that are not necessary, and thus may represent an overall direction within the E.U. to do away with pre-selected optional extras on commercial websites in general.

In the case of Ebookers.com Deutschland, when a customer selects a specific flight during the booking process, the costs are listed in the top right-hand corner of the Internet page, along with "taxes and fees" and "cancellation insurance," which are calculated automatically.

Although there is a notice at the bottom of the page to tell customers how to opt-out, the court deemed this insufficient.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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