Consumer body seeks stronger liability rules for AI

BEUC argues it is essentially impossible for consumers to get compensation for damages

European consumer advocates are calling on the European Commission to beef up civil liability rules for products and services, claiming they are too weak to deal with services driven by artificial intelligence (AI).

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said that although the changes proposed by the commission to make civil liability rules fit for purpose in the digital era provide progress in some areas, they do not go far enough. The complex nature of AI systems would make it de facto impossible for consumers to gain compensation for damages, as they would have to prove the fault lies with the operator.

“It is essential that liability rules catch up with the fact we are increasingly surrounded by digital and AI-driven products and services like home assistants or insurance policies based on personalised pricing. However, consumers are going to be less well protected when it comes to AI services, because they will have to prove the operator was at fault or negligent in order to claim compensation for damages,” said Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC.

“Asking consumers to do this is a real let down. In a world of highly complex and obscure ‘black box’ AI systems, it will be practically impossible for the consumer to use the new rules. As a result, consumers will be better protected if a lawnmower shreds their shoes in the garden than if they are unfairly discriminated against through a credit scoring system.”

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The new rules proposed by the commission would see data loss added as a type of damage for which manufacturers can be liable, and software can also be considered a product, covered by EU product liability rules.

BEUC has long been calling for a clear enforceable framework and modernisation of these rules, seeking the inclusion of online marketplaces under the new EU product liability rules, with consumers subjected to unsafe goods on online marketplaces.

“We welcome that the commission has proposed to hold platforms liable when products sold on them are defective or illegal, but only under certain conditions which do not go far enough,” the organisation said.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist