Amazon Dash Buttons Ruled Illegal In Germany For... Making It Too Easy To Buy Stuff

from the can't-have-any-of-that-now dept

You can count me among those who don't see the value in those Amazon Dash buttons that got plenty of attention a few years back, allowing those who had the little single-button devices to re-order some consumable product with the push of a single button. Even if lots of people made fun of them at launch, Amazon has expanded them to many more brands. So, even if I don't see the value, it appears plenty of people do. Except, in Germany, they're now illegal, because apparently some people are upset that they make things too easy to order.

The ruling came after a regional consumer protection watchdog brought a case against Amazon, arguing that the Dash buttons violate laws that say shoppers should know what they are paying at the time of any transaction.

“We are always open to innovation. But if innovation means that the consumer is put at a disadvantage and price comparisons are made difficult then we fight that,” Wolfgang Schuldzinski, head of the consumer body, said in a statement.

Huh? If users decide to buy a button that lets them reorder, then... what's the problem here. Yes, they may end up paying more than other retailers, but it's the consumers who are making that decision, suggesting that they value the convenience more than the ability to hunt for the best deal.

This fits with other European legal trends, in which courts and regulators really don't seem to think the public ought to be able to make any decisions themselves about what they prefer online, and must be "protected" from their own decisions. What, exactly, is the benefit here? How are consumers better off if the solution they appear to want, which they had to pay for, is no longer considered legal?

I could (maybe?) understand if the argument was that Amazon was somehow leveraging its market position to push people into using these things, but I've seen no evidence that that's true at all. Indeed, I basically forgot these little buttons existed after hearing about them at launch. I get that European courts (and German ones, in particular) like to think they're protecting consumers more than the US, but in this case it makes no sense. If consumers feel ripped off by the buttons, they won't buy them (or they'll stop using them). Why do we need a court to make them illegal?

Filed Under: convenience, dash, dash button, germany, purchasing, transparency
Companies: amazon


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 3:29am

    Clickbaity title

    The real reason why the button is forbidden is because Amazon reserves the right to deliver a different (although comparable) item at a different price. That's the reason, not because it it 'too easy'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Terse, 16 Jan 2019 @ 3:32am

    I believe the argument here is about the predictability of the purchase. If I understand the issue correctly, the problem is that Amazon reserves the right to change the price from one order to the next and to send a replacement “equivalent” item if the item for which the button was originally configured is not available.

    The German ruling makes sense to me in that it merely seems to ask Amazon to commit to ① always sending the same thing and ② always sending it for the same price, so that consumers can use the button without fear of being overcharged or being sent something they were not planning on buying.

    This seems reasonable to me… The debate, of course, is whether a company should be allowed to make price adjustments or offer replacements without warning the customer. It will be acceptable to some and not to others, and Amazon could presumably get away with asking better questions at setup and/or pushing a mobile app alert when the button’s parameters change, before the first order after such a change goes through.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 16 Jan 2019 @ 4:29am

      Basically it's "no bait and switch"

      If you have no way to figure out what a press of that button will cost and deliver at any point of time, it would be as unpredictable as ordering broadband in the U.S. where you don't necessarily get broadband, certainly not at the advertised price, and the price changes afterwards anyway.

      Americans love that sort of thing. Germans, in contrast, are not really fond of unannounced surprises.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        radix (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 10:55am

        Re: Basically it's "no bait and switch"

        In the US, anyway, a valid contract (even something as simple as a purchase of consumables) requires a "meeting of the minds."

        Both sides have to agree on the item being purchased and the price. If one side claims the unilateral ability to alter the agreement, it's not a valid contract.

        Outlawing the practice is not only entirely reasonable, it's almost certainly already illegal, even if it hasn't been adjudicated.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 7:08am

      Re:

      it merely seems to ask Amazon to commit to ① always sending the same thing and ② always sending it for the same price

      Other options:

      • put an e-ink display on each button showing the item and price
      • ask for confirmation on item/price changes

      Mike's spin on the story is bullshit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    spodula, 16 Jan 2019 @ 3:32am

    Yeah, but what if your kid gets hold of it, and you come home from work one day to find they have ordered 100,000 toilet rolls and are now holed up in their new back-garden bog-roll fort!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      cpt kangarooski, 16 Jan 2019 @ 6:10am

      Re:

      One of my co-workers revealed last year that her young nephews had figured out how to order things using their family’s Amazon Echo while their parents were on a trip and some relatives were watching them. Something like $10,000 worth of toys, trading cards, and computers to play games on arrived. Luckily they only managed to open and render a little of it unreturnable before they were caught.

      I’m not sure what happened once the bulk of the orders were returned and the Echo disconnected, but I would imagine that it involved being buried up to their necks on the beach at low tide.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        MathFox, 16 Jan 2019 @ 6:14am

        Re: Re:

        You don't make clear what should be buried at the beach... the Echo?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 7:05am

        Re: Re:

        Luckily they only managed to open and render a little of it unreturnable before they were caught.

        Luckily, anything mailed to you without authorization can be treated as a gift, and Amazon cannot enforce a contract against a child. They shouldn't have had to pay for any of it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 9:10am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That's not how that works.

          First, the contract was with the parents who agreed that anything ordered on their echo was approved, not the children who ordered it, so it would be enforceable.

          Second, the law you are referring to doesn't apply as broadly as "Facebook lawyers" may have led you to believe. It doesn't apply to truly accidental shipments, or things someone else ordered and was delivered to you by accident, etc. It is items a company sends you an unsolicited item with a return package demanding you pay or return it. You cannot keep your neighbors Xbox that was accidentally delivered to your house, or the PS4 that was sent due to a bonified system glitch where the sender had a good faith belief it was ordered. If you try, you will go to jail for stealing. The reason it gets misread so often is that companies no longer try the unsolicited mail trick anymore due to the laws written to protect consumers. It was never meant to give you free stuff due to an error.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 3:50am

    when saying "no" can really mean "yes"

    A lot depends on how this Amazon Dash Button stuff is done. Let's say that you (or someone else using your computer) previously ordered from Amazon, so the company already has all your personal details on file. Will simply clicking the button automatically create a new purchase and ship it without the user having to go through the entire purchase process all over again? If so, then that makes accidents much more likely to happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 3:50am

    This doesn't seem too bad once you understand the argument. Yes, the customer decided to buy the button, but it does open them up to paying higher prices and potentially predatory pricing.

    That's fine if customers always go in with their eyes open to the risks and are diligent enough to check their options once they have it, but we all know most people don't do this. European law is usually going to favour the consumer over the business, so if they find that there's more risk than benefit to the consumer, they will opt to get in the way.

    I'm not sure that outlawing the devices completely is the best option here, but it's pretty clear why the government got involved. The fact that Amazon haven't yet opted to use the devices in a predatory manner is irrelevant to the decision, from what I can see. If the potential exists, they won't necessarily wait until the consumer is ripped off to take action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Valkor, 16 Jan 2019 @ 7:34am

      Re:

      Really, the best option is consumer pressure.
      If people used Amazon's *very* generous return policy to their advantage, and returned every product that was a substitution or a markup, Amazon would decide that it was in their interest to keep those Dash buttons predictable.

      Unfortunately, these devices are marketed to people who don't have the time or inclination to even pull out a phone, open a program, and click "Buy Now with 1-Click", so there's little chance of many of them doing that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 7:50am

        Re: Re:

        WRT Amazon's very generous return policy, a couple years ago I ordered several Echos as Christmas presents, around $200 worth of hardware. They supposedly got delivered to my door, but they weren't there when I got home. Fedex GPS tracking confirmed that the deliveryman had in fact come by my place when he said he did, (apparently that's a thing now,) so either the deliveryman or one of my neighbors walked off with it.

        I contacted Amazon and reported what had happened, and they re-sent the whole thing free of charge, no questions asked. (I received it this time!)

        Then again, a device like that has to be activated to be useful, and I'm sure they had the serial numbers of the Echos on record. Whenever the thief tried to set one of them up, I bet it pinged their fraud department and they knew exactly who to send the cops after. But still, I thought that was really cool of them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Monkey (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 12:41pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          They supposedly got delivered to my door, but they weren't there when I got home. Fedex GPS tracking confirmed that the deliveryman had in fact come by my place when he said he did, (apparently that's a thing now,) so either the deliveryman or one of my neighbors walked off with it.

          Reminds me of an earlier discussion... got a youtube video of what that guy did: Glitter bomb fake package trap

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 8:10am

        Re: Re:

        There's also the fact that the dash buttons are essentially for commodity items. If you press the button for a certain brand of dishwasher tablet and a different brand turns up, you're probably not going to argue a great deal unless it literally happens every time. Amazon, on the other hand, can get a sweet deal by being bribed by a competitor to the listed item or by picking the stuff that has a far better profit margin with little comeback.

        That's part of why the government gets involved with things like this - there's little to stop Amazon from abusing their position if they're so inclined, since normal market pressures are unlikely to happen.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 9:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          > There's also the fact that the dash buttons are essentially for commodity items.

          Not all of them. I've had Amazon serve me dash buttons for 3D printer filament, for example. For the sort of printing I was doing, there are two major suppliers. One of them makes filament that has a tendency to break without warning during long printing jobs, a fact which I discovered at the expense of a fair amount of time and money. If I wanted to re-order the stuff that actually works well, and got the brittle filament instead, you'd better believe I would be unhappy about that!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 17 Jan 2019 @ 1:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Congratulations, you found a single use case where you *personally* would be unhappy enough to complain. But, most people won't, for most things.

            If someone presses the button for one brand of laundry detergent and get another, the vast majority of people will just shrug and think "I have some washing to do". They generally won't go and demand a specific brand. Hence, the possibility of abuse since they will get very few complaints to force them to change behaviour if they were to abuse these things.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 16 Jan 2019 @ 4:05am

    Would they have criminalized ordering buttons if they were from a giant German company?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 4:26am

      Re:

      Probably, really the only dumb things German governments do is waste money on art projects. Otherwise they are incredibly consistent in how they apply laws and debate this stuff at a far more intellectual level than say... the US.

      Also these buttons are predatory in that you will randomly given similar/comparable items if the one you ordered is out of stock or just pick the overpriced option over the lower priced option.

      You only find out about that in the fine print and it's certainly not a 'feature' you'd expect from these buttons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 16 Jan 2019 @ 1:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Probably, really the only dumb things German governments do is waste money on art projects. Otherwise they are incredibly consistent in how they apply laws and debate this stuff at a far more intellectual level than say... the US.

        Newsflash: Germany has an actually working separation of powers. The government does not get to apply laws. The parliament gets to pass laws (drafted by the administration under control of the government). Most of the time, the government factions have a majority in parliament and are able to push through what they are drafted. However, sometimes the High Court gets asked to rule on their constitutionality and occasionally throws out laws passed by the government.

        So it's really giving the government more credit than it is due by stating it is "incredibly consistent in how they apply laws". They don't get to apply them, and sometimes they don't even get to keep the laws they passed. The consistency is established in the courts, and the judges there are appointed rather than elected.

        It's not like the U.S. doesn't try to incorporate similar principles but somehow they manage to get meddled with a lot more by partisan politics.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2019 @ 3:38pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think there is simply a fair bit of confusion and conflation WRT the usage of the word "government" here. It is frequently used in a fast and loose manner, but generally most people seem to flow with the shift of meaning. The translation, however, between the US and... pretty much everyone else, is different.

          I suspect, for instance, the you mean "government" in the sense of "the winning party or coalition of not-so-much-winning parties formed a government", i.e., the PM, President, and legislative body. I suspect the AC means "the apparatus of government as a whole". (We can have fun also by using "government" in the all-inclusive sense -or as if it were all-inclusive -, and yet in the same breath separate out some part of the government, such as the courts.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 16 Jan 2019 @ 4:42am

    Socialist Babble...

    Of course they ruled that way. Despite the lessons of the past, Europe still clings to socialism. They're always one or two steps away from goose stepping.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 4:43am

      Re: Socialist Babble...

      So, you have no idea what socialism is. Sweet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 12:29pm

      Re: Socialist Babble...

      Confusing socialism and fascism is a good example of why you should pay more attention in school.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 2:21pm

        Re: Re: Socialist Babble...

        Fascism mostly arose as a direct response to the threat of socialism. If those dirty commies were going to create a system where the state owns all private enterprise, the response was obviously to create a counter-system where private enterprise owned the state instead and kept the "proletariat" in line. Hence Mussolini's famous quote about a better name for fascism being "corporatism."

        This is a pattern that's very familiar to students of history: something bad happens, and people react by coming up with something even worse, developing something just as extreme but in the opposite direction. (Heck, it happened twice as a response to Communism alone, in Europe with fascism and in America with the toxic philosophies of Ayn Rand!) Just look at how many stories Techdirt has covered where people respond to something bad online (piracy, child pornography, terrorist content, etc) with calls for massive censorship and wide-reaching extrajudicial takedowns with no regard for the collateral damage.

        It's the same principle over and over, being applied in new and different ways. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 7:04am

    "Huh? If users decide to buy a button that lets them reorder, then... what's the problem here."

    Dash buttons violate laws that say shoppers should know what they are paying at the time of any transaction.

    You wrote the answer to your own question.

    Despite your belief on what is outrageous, the issue literally comes from consumers upset they're not paying the intended price they expected.

    In other articles, Verbraucherzentrale NRW mentioned rise in consumer complaints lead to their filing of the court case.

    I don't see an issue here.

    Frankly, they should be banned in the US as well.

    The simplest fix would be Amazon place a display in the Dash button to indicate the current price that will be charged when the button is clicked.

    Win-win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 9:46am

    Actually the ruling does make sense but I think it would be a rather easy fix for Amazon and probably should be implemented world wide if they don't want complaints from other countries. When you setup your dash button, make sure that that the button can't order things more then the price you originally linked it to. If it is more, then have Amazon email you warning of the price change. If it is less, order it anyway and have amazon email you a notice. Don't need to improve the button, just the system of ordering.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 16 Jan 2019 @ 10:07am

    Huh?

    Mike, is your headline dishonest, or do you really not understand what you wrote? Because the body of your article explains, in a good bit of detail, the basis for the decision--why do you then act like you don't understand it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    compujas (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 11:34am

    They should just make it so the button adds the item to your cart and then e-mails you x hours later as a reminder to check out. Then you can see what the item you're ordering is and the price before actually ordering it, but you still have the convenience of pushing the button so you don't forget that you needed to restock that item.

    Or even easier, push the button, it puts the item in your cart and sends a push notification to your phone, which is probably in your hand already, or at worst in your pocket, asking you to approve the purchase with the price and item shown.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 2:21pm

    Dash buttons are pretty cool for the DIY community projects out there. Repurposing a button to start your Tesla in the garage, warm the car to the desired temperature, and use a smart-bulb color change to indicate when that desired temperature has been hit is just cool in a luxurious future tech experience only the truly privileged will ever enjoy kind of neat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeff Green (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 2:25pm

    Typo in the title

    As the article makes clear the ruling makes dash buttons illegal for making it easy for Amazon to con customers so I assume the title was supposed to be
    "Amazon Dash Buttons Ruled Illegal In Germany For... Making It Too Easy To Fleece Consumers"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2019 @ 10:45am

    Once again, the people of Germany are just too DUMB to control their own lives. The government has to step in and run it for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      tokenGerman, 17 Jan 2019 @ 12:45pm

      Yeah, I don't know about that. We get to drink from age 16 onwards (earlier for the more enthusiastic teens, really) and don't go to rape prison, if we're caught smoking some pot.
      I've heard you've got metal detectors in schools and you have to have written permission to go to the bathroom.
      Some free people you are...
      Whilst I am a bit jealous of being allowed to carry a gun (which you only can do in somem US states anyway) and would definitely get one, should I come to Texas, crime is low enough that the entirety of Germany's police fires probably less than a magazine per year in anger. So except for aesthetic reasons, there's not much of a need.

      Also our government agencies usually are not in the habit of selling guns to violent drug lords. Or whatever random bullshit happens in the US daily, that would be a major scandal in Germany.
      The people of America don't control their own government, so they don't control much.
      Please stop thinking this is frontier times.
      Those levels of freedom would be awesome, but you're a mixed economy with a big government like us (yours is bigger, though), except you guys really suck at it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tokenGerman, 17 Jan 2019 @ 12:25pm

    A German here, and I think that decision is a bit annoying.
    Even if I didn't plan on getting those myself at the moment.

    Yes, there might be some 'bait and switch'-shenanigans possibilites, but Amazon is the most customer friendly company, I've ever dealt with. And they do have that reputation here and aren't likely to jeopardise that for a few cents or euros bigger profit margin.
    Because I'm often willing to pay up to 10% more for expensive purchases, if they're on Amazon, because the risk of having issues with returns.
    And even if they send me a replacement product or would sometimes charge me a little bit more, if the original is unavailable, I probably wouldn't mind and buying commodities online is decadent anyway. And in either case I can still get a refund, because Amazon just does not suck.
    [yeah, yeah, other Germans will now say, they treat their workers horribly, but the customer facing side is indisputably great]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Jan 2019 @ 1:18pm

      Re:

      I’d guess the issue isn’t so much what Amazon are doing, but the risk of what other companies who aren’t so focussed might do with the same tools.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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