In Austria, 8.42 million people used the Internet in 2022, which corresponds to around 93 percent of the population. Austrian consumers are also increasingly buying groceries and other everyday items such as cosmetics and toys online. With the growing use of the digital marketplace, the number of cybercrime offenses is rising. The goal of the cooperation between the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) and the Federal Office of Consumer Health (BAVG) and the Austrian Institute for Applied Telecommunications (ÖIAT) is "an improved exchange of experience and know-how in order to jointly strengthen Internet control, to protect consumers from Internet traps, and to improve the quality of life of consumers from Internet traps and to provide better information when dealing with digital products and services," emphasized AGES Managing Director Thomas Kickinger and Anton Reinl, who is also Director of BAVG, at the signing of the cooperation agreement with ÖIAT Managing Director Bernhard Jungwirth.
Consumer protection on the Internet covers e-commerce to cost traps on the Internet, from data protection to responsible use of social networks, from security gaps in smartphone apps to malware. Internet fraud in particular has increased very sharply in recent years. Ulrich Herzog, Head of the Section for Consumer Policy and Consumer Health at the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Long-Term Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK) emphasizes the complementary technical focus of BAVG, AGES and ÖIAT: "The use of synergies, joint controls and information of citizens ensure an 'increase in security' and an overall improved awareness of dangerous purchases on the Internet. From recognizing fake stores and counterfeit products to advice from the Internet Ombudsman's Office and concrete product warnings due to health hazards, consumers receive useful practical tips," Herzog emphasized the benefits of the cooperation between the Internet specialists.
On behalf of the BMSGPK, AGES repeatedly carries out priority checks in the food sector and publishes product warnings and product recalls ranging from foodstuffs and cosmetics to consumer goods and medicines. With around 470,000 visitors, the product warning website is one of the most frequently clicked information pages. With regard to official controls and activities concerning online trade, the BAVG makes use of the legally standardized support services of AGES. "For this purpose, a competent internet unit has been established within AGES at the Competence Center Food Chain as a central interface for all federal offices, which is also open for cooperation with the federal states," says AGES Managing Director Kickinger. The regulatory control competence for online trade of Austrian suppliers remains with the competent state authority, in distinction to the competence of the BAVG.
"The control activities of the BAVG concern all Internet providers of goods whose company headquarters are located outside of Austria, in the European internal market and third countries, who offer their products for sale to Austrian consumers," explains BAVG Director Reinl. The focus of the operational activities of the BAVG is, in addition to official activities in the import and export area, the Internet control of goods of the Food and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG), which are offered for sale in Austria via foreign web stores (EU/EEA/third country). In a first EU-wide Internet control action "Bamboo Swindle", numerous illegal products and Internet stores could be located in 2022.
ÖIAT Managing Director Jungwirth sees "great advantages in the exchange of experiences, joint training courses on current problem areas and in the networking of prevention work and information channels. With this cooperation, we can expand the range of topics covered by Watchlist Internet and warn consumers even better in the future about fraud traps involving food, dietary supplements and medicines." The ÖIAT operates the following projects, among others: The Watchlist Internet, an independent prevention and information platform on Internet fraud and fraud-like online traps, informs over 3 million consumers each year. Other ÖIAT initiatives include the state-approved Internet Ombudsman's Office, which, like the Watchlist Internet, is also funded by the BMSGPK, Saferinternet.at, the Austrian e-commerce quality mark and the service center digitaleSenior:innen.
The combination of official activities of the BAVG and the AGES on behalf of the BMSGPK with the focus on health hazards and deception with the expertise of the non-profit association ÖIAT regarding Internet fraud is a "win-win situation for consumer protection in Austria," said Kickinger, Reinl and Jungwirth unisono. Especially in the areas of official Internet control and the Watchlist Internet, there is a large overlap in the content of the AGES, the BAVG and the ÖIAT. In order to fulfill the tasks of the cooperation partners in the best possible way, a close strategic partnership is being pursued with the aim of promoting safe, responsible and competent use of digital media in Austria.