Consumers in a digital world

World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), celebrated today, March 15, is an opportunity to promote the basic rights of all consumers, to demand that those rights are respected and protected, and a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights. The theme for 2019 is ‘‘Trusted Smart Products”.
Digital technology is having a dramatic impact on consumers around the world, creating many new benefits including better communication, access to information and greater choice and convenience.
“From smartphones to wearable fitness trackers, to voice-activated assistants and smart TVs, many of the products we use are increasingly becoming connected by default,” Consumers International noted. “This World Consumers Rights Day we will be highlighting what consumers want and need from a connected world and how important it is to put them at the heart of the development of these digital products and services.”
Whilst consumers undoubtedly benefit from these technologies, there are questions about how to improve the quality of services, which online services and products consumers can trust and what happens to the data they share online.
It is estimated that by 2020, 52 per cent of the world’s population will be online – this means the number of people accessing the Internet will have grown tremendously. Technology has given many consumers more choice, convenience and information, but important issues remain.
Guyana will join in the observance to mark the occasion, which brings together more than 200 member organisations in more than 100 countries to champion the rights of consumers everywhere. Undoubtedly, there are important issues to be addressed, for instance, what is digital consumer trust and how can we build it?
Throughout the course of her tenure, Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes has pointed to the benefits of E-commerce and encouraged persons from all backgrounds and profession to use the Internet as a way of finding online markets. She expounded on her belief that Information and communications technology (ICT) would deliver the transformation within the Guyana, noting too that enhanced connectivity will facilitate opportunities for business development, research, and education. Certain services at the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) are already available online and the Minister assured that the objective is to place every single public service online including drivers’ licences; business compliance certificates; land, housing, mining and forestry permits among others.
While it is clear that efforts are underway to give those not yet connected a chance to do so, at an affordable cost, the challenge is in ensuring everyone’s data is kept safe and secure and to help consumers know which services they can trust. Integral to this is consumer protection and empowerment.
If Guyana is to progress along the digital trajectory, consumers will be required more than ever, to give personal information such as bank account details, credit card details, email addresses, identity details or medical information when accessing goods and services online. When this information is lost, or stolen, the effects can be serious. Consumers, therefore, need to be aware of their rights and what actions can be taken. Local consumer protection bodies in Guyana, including the Guyana National Bureau of Standards, the Public Utilities Commission and the Competition and Consumers Affairs Commission should be lauded for their continued efforts to sensitise the public on their rights and for dissemination of pertinent information. These entities have also recognised that in this digital age consumers need to be protected more than ever, and have charged service providers to find secure and reliable ways of utilising data and to address the challenges by developing strategies that will lead to a trustworthy digital world for all consumers. It is now up to businesses to create more reliable and secure means of conducting business.