eBay rulingeBay cleared of selling lenses illegally

07 March 2006

Internet auction site eBay has been cleared of allowing contact lenses to be sold illegally through its website.

Internet auction site eBay has been cleared of allowing contact lenses to be sold illegally through its website.

The case has highlighted the 'loophole' that eBay has no legal obligation to actively monitor its listings. The site had been accused of 'aiding and abetting' the sale of the contact lenses without the involvement of a qualified optician.

The General Optical Council, which regulates opticians and optometrists in the UK, brought the action after finding more than 200 contact lens listings on eBay's UK site, ranging from prescription daily disposables to 360-day colour lenses.

In the UK, contact lenses must be sold by, or under the supervision of, either a registered optician or doctor. This also applies to cosmetic lenses.

But the GOC dropped the action at a hearing at City of London Magistrates' Court yesterday after discovering that under European law, eBay doesn't have to actively monitor its listings.

'Loophole'

Peter Coe, GOC Registrar, said: 'The council took action on this issue because of the dangers to consumers buying and wearing contact lenses which have not been fitted by a qualified professional.

'We recognise that eBay has put in place listing policies addressing these issues and appears to be ensuring that unlawful auctions of contact lenses are removed from the website. Hopefully the public is also now more aware of the risks of buying and wearing contact lenses from unregulated sellers.

'However, this case has highlighted a loophole in laws designed for public protection. We feel that it is an unreasonable burden for a regulator, with limited resources, to have to monitor the millions of listings on auction websites. In effect, we would have to notify the website of each individual instance of an illegal sale in order for it to be de-listed.

'Mark Milliken-Smith, for eBay, told yesterday's court hearing that the sale of contact lenses had always been prohibited on its website.

He added that it was 'never appropriate' for the charges to be brought and it was 'disingenuous' to suggest otherwise since e-commerce regulations had not changed.

The ten charges against eBay were formally dismissed.