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Osnabrück Subscription Observatory

The Osnabrück Subscription Observatory is a new hub of expertise for stakeholders, researchers, and policymakers that will monitor the development of business models, policy debates and regulatory initiatives in the subscription economy. The Observatory will bring together social scientists and legal scholars with the aim of exploring, in a comparative perspective, different regulatory approaches and the impact of behavioural insights on consumer policy regarding subscriptions contracts.

The Observatory is part of the research project "Consumer Resilience in the Subscription Economy" explores from an interdisciplinary perspective which regulatory instruments and policy processes can strengthen the resilience of consumers towards the new risks of the so-called "subscription economy". The project which brings together a team of legal scholars and political scientists is jointly led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Busch (University of Osnabrück) and Prof. Dr. Kathrin Loer (Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences). The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection (BMUV).

Businesses from different sectors are increasingly adopting business models in which a one-off purchase of goods or services is being replaced by long-term contractual relationships ("subscriptions"). While subscription contracts are not a completely new phenomenon, the current trend towards a "subscription economy" differs from earlier developments in both quantitative and qualitative terms. What is new, in particular, is the possibility of collecting large amounts of data on user behaviour under digital subscription contracts. This makes it possible, for example, to personalise goods and services on the basis of the collected data. Digital subscriptions also offer new possibilities of user manipulation that are difficult to recognise, for example through deceptive design choices ("dark patterns").

The research project will offer the first interdisciplinary analysis of consumer policies in the digital subscription economy which combines perspectives from law and political science. The research team will analyse how the recent trend towards subscription models is changing risk patterns for consumers and how consumer policy in Germany and the United States is responding to this challenge. It also examines which new consumer policy instruments can be used to strengthen the resilience of consumers towards the specific risks of the subscription economy. Both legal instruments ("consumer enabling laws") and technological instruments ("consumer enabling technologies") will be considered.


C. Busch, Updating EU Consumer Law for the Digital Subscription Economy, 11 Journal of European Consumer and Market Law 41-42 (2022) PDF