PS9026 - Online databases: Competition Authority imposes a penalty of 500,000 euros on the Expo Guide company for unfair trade practices
ONLINE DATABASES: COMPETITION AUTHORITY IMPOSES A PENALTY OF 500,000 EUROS ON THE EXPO GUIDE COMPANY FOR UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES
In violation of the Consumer Code it required micro-enterprises to subscribe to an unnecessary service, consisting of the publication with fee of advertisements on an online database.
Fine of 500,000 euros to the Expo Guide company, who runs an online database, for unfair trade practices to the detriment of the micro-enterprises. This was decided by the Competition Authority which in September last year had already adopted a preliminary injunction ordering the company to suspend the sending of payment requests to the companies. Expo Guide now has 90 days to notify the manner in which it intends to comply with the order of the Authority.
The proceeding was initiated in the light of many reports from individual entrepreneurs and consumer associations.
According to the results of the investigation, Expo Guide gathered data on Italian micro-enterprises, without their knowledge, in an exclusive online database on the website www.expo-guide.com called "Guide for Fairs and Exhibitors". The purpose of these entries is to promote the signing of an expensive multi-year subscription (1271 euros per year for three years) to an advertising service. Thus Expo Guide required payment for services supplied by the trader, but not requested by the micro-enterprise. Under the pretext of checking and correcting the data entered in the electronic database, Expo Guide systematically proceeded to send, to pre-recorded micro-enterprises, a letter expressed in a threatening tone to get them to subscribe. The first instalment of the invoice is sent when the terms for exercising the right of reconsideration have expired. The entire mechanism put in place by the company is aimed at the urgent recovery of debts due. In fact, if companies do not pay, Expo Guide sends directly or through credit recovery companies, repeated alerts and payment reminders, even threatening the use of competent judicial authorities. It is an activity that is carried out in a widespread manner: the company has in fact recorded data on 247,000 Italian companies participating in trade fairs and sent its own commercial communication to each of them. In the period between January 2012 and June 2013, 3185 Italian companies, including micro-enterprises, signed for a three-year subscription, following the receipt of unsolicited commercial communication.
Rome, 19 February 2014