Is the information paradigm dead? The role of online reviews in European consumer contract law
PhD student: Mrs M.M. Narciso
Promotors: Prof J.M. Smits, Prof G. van Dijck
Duration: 1/9/2017 - 31/8/2021
PhD defence: Maastricht, 9/3/2022
Online reviews have changed our lives - consumers resort to them when seeking information on practically any contractual decision: which hotel to book, which phone to buy, which restaurant to visit. Booking.com has over 114 million reviews, and TripAdvisor reports more than 435 million. Sociologically, online reviews fulfill the role of information duties. What does this mean for consumer law? The current information paradigm in EU consumer law is characterized by duties imposed on businesses to provide consumers with objective data i.e. technical information - about products/ services characteristics, and with legal provisions applicable to the contract. Research suggests this paradigm has significant limitations. It has been said that the current number of information duties causes an information overload, and that illiteracy, innumeracy and university-level legal vocabulary limit consumers in understanding information disclosed by businesses. Most importantly, it has been said that consumers do not need or want objective/technical information, because it is not helpful. The doctrine claims that the information paradigm is in need of a reform, but it struggles to develop a satisfactory alternative. My research seeks such an alternative. In online reviews, a different type of information is conveyed - subjective information about the consumers use and experience of products or services, closer to personal advice (advice-like information). Traditional information duties list the commodities available in a hotel room; Booking.coms reviews will reveal whether other users enjoyed their stay. In this project, based on doctrinal and empirical research, I will examine whether the existing information paradigm in the platform economy should be replaced, or amended, by a legal-contractual framework based on advice-like information derived from online reviews. My starting point will be Ben-Shahar and Schneiders argument that the information paradigm should be abandoned, and that consumers want advice instead of information. The authors directly oppose advice to information, but to what extent is advice not actually a subtype of information? This researchs focus will partly be conceptual: I will determine what is information for the legislator and to what extent it conflicts with the concept of advice. I aim at establishing limits for each concept, within the field of European consumer law, in order to understand the scope of the information paradigm and to assess whether a solution to overcome its limitations has to be sought in a different model. I will focus on the platform economy, because online platforms completely control the amount and type of online information available to consumers.