Digital Age and Consumer Protection

March 18, 2017

We live in an era of easy plastic. We like the flexibility of buying online. And some of us like to purchase goods and services from telemarketers, as well. Consumers also like the fact that they can access money more easily than in the past. We certainly reap benefits from rapid technological advances to our appliances, vehicles, and computers. Computers are also responsible for expanding our circle of interactions in ways that would have been unimaginable years ago.

With the technological advances of the digital age, the intersection of data privacy and innovation markets is a new frontier for all the countries. Information Technology is an area that is drastically moving forward transforming the traditional way of protecting the consumer through regulatory process in consumerism to digital area of the human race including consumerism, e-com, e-purchases as a result of fast changes of technology. Life style is fast changing with the increased use of mobile phones, computers, internet, and purchasing locally and via international platforms overlooking the protecting the consumer and the economy due to unprecedented fast movement of the digital age.

In technological parlance, “online shopping” is a prevalent mechanism for purchasing products and for availing of various services through the Internet. Online shopping and use of online services have become increasingly prevalent, due to convenience and often, lower prices and discounts offered. There are numerous advantages and conveniences provided by online service providers. However, there are certain disadvantages that are tagged along with the same, which inter alia include the perils of inaccurate or deficiency in goods/services provided to the consumers. In the event a deficiency in service arises, the issue of jurisdiction for the purpose of referring and resolving disputes/complaints is a crucial issue to be addressed on behalf of consumers using the online services through the internet. Enhancing the benefits of e-commerce for consumers will require maintaining an environment in which consumers have trust.

Digital technologies create new opportunities for consumers, but also make upholding their rights more challenging. Digital products and services often come with usage restrictions about which consumers are not well informed. Online transactions often cross borders, making it difficult to resolve complaints, or even to know what consumer laws and policies apply.

Whilst fast approaching the digital age the traditional protectionism will become obsolete when citizen adopt new convenient and fast measures and methods on purchase of items and business.

Data collection and data protection is a dangerous area the consumer is not aware of. In areas of insurance, banking, advertisements, and general e-commerce, the data is collected and shared with others for a consideration or other purposes until the consumer is faced with bill shocks and other complications on litigations and various other demands. Are the information received trustworthy and whether the consumer has access to any institutional support. A consumer is exposed to risks and products not suitable is delivered or not delivered at all. Apparently, the legal process is expensive, complicated and evasive.

As it is, the consumers have difficulties in understanding the risks associated with use of cyber for convenience. Comprehending the legal systems and processes would only contribute towards their complex situations.

The development of internet has facilitated the globalization of markets and cross-border e-commerce but also taken internet fraud to new levels. Consumers are at risk of identity theft, which threatens trust and undermines the growth of online commerce. Illegal copying and unauthorized distribution of digital works has intensified in everyday consumer products such as audio CDs, DVDs, and e-books. Copyright holders wish to prevent any unauthorized use. Many active Internet users remain unwilling to purchase goods or services over the Internet. Being aware of security and privacy problems, they hesitate in launching their financial details into cyberspace.

Although transactions over the internet have increased the efficiency in transactions and accessibility for consumers in Fiji, many pit falls still exist, that have not yet been dealt with. While growth in the e- commerce industry is sweeping across the country, there appears to be inadequate supervision and laws dealing with quality control over the products of companies and the services rendered by them.

ICTs are recognized as key enablers for socio-economic development and that regulators must give priority to protecting consumers of ICT services and applications. Fiji needs stringent mechanisms in place to protect consumer rights and interests in the digital era.

The Council continues advising consumers on their rights and responsibilities. If consumers need Council’s assistance then they can visit our offices in Suva, Lautoka and Labasa or call our National Consumers Helpline on toll free number 155 for advice.