Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Defining Consumer Protection in the Digital Age

Robin Simpson, Consumers International's (CI) Senior Policy Adviser, recently represented CI at the OECD Ministerial Meeting on The digital economy innovation, growth and social prosperity which took place in Cancun, Mexico. He spoke at the Civil Society Forum convened by the OECD Civil Society information Society Advisory Council (CSISAC) and in the main agenda panel discussion on Consumer Trust and Market Growth, chaired by the French Secretary of State for the Digital Economy Mme Axelle Lemaire. Here are his impressions.

This event was big in both senses, hundreds of delegates and a substantial agenda of great importance to consumers. Such events are infrequent, the previous one was was in Seoul in 2008 a long gap given the speed with which developments take place in this technology driven area. The OECD has a very active work programme in which we are implicated through our membership of the Committee on Consumer Policy on which I have represented CI for 10 years. It is fair to say we have a critical stance on policies adopted (see below) but equally fair to note that they encourage our input. 

I start at the end. Like many such conferences it concluded with a grand declaration almost entirely pre-cooked. National delegations undertook to: 
  1. Support the free flow of information,
  2.   Stimulate digital innovation and creativity,
  3.  Increase broadband connectivity and …., protect consumers,
  4.  Embrace the opportunities arising from emerging technologies and applications such as the Internet of Things,
  5. Promote digital security risk management and the protection of privacy at the highest level of leadership
  6. Stimulate and help reduce impediments to e-commerce within and across borders
  7.  Take advantage of the opportunities arising from online platforms
  8. Spur the employment opportunities created by the digital economy
  9. Strive for all people to have the skills needed to participate in the digital economy and society

How can we possibly not like such a list of virtuous objectives? In the panel discussion chaired by Mme Lemaire, I described how the success of third party platforms has been underpinned by their acceptance of limited liability for consumers in the event of breaches of security and other ancillary supports such as dispute resolution. And I argued for the development of universal international standards for data protection and privacy. All of this is compatible with the above

But, as so often, what is most interesting about conference declarations is not so much what they include as what they do not include. Or the force with which major principles are stated…or not. CSISAC pointed out that privacy is insufficiently addressed by the declaration. Point 1 talks of ‘respecting applicable frameworks’ for privacy, point 5 seeks to  ‘promote…the protection of privacy at the highest level of leadership’. But privacy is a human right as recognised by the UN declaration on Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 and needs to be stated as such. CSISAC also made the link between such rights and the Internet of Things (IoT).

But the declaration, in mentioning the IoT, sets down no markers in that regard, including only the usual qualifier ‘appropriateness’ when considering the need for regulatory frameworks. ‘Appropriate regulation’ is frequently a euphemism for reduction of regulation, a danger in a sector which is in our view dangerously exposed  to corporate abuse as is demonstrated by our recent publication: The Internet of Things and the challenges for consumer protectionWe make the point there that Intellectual property law is in danger of eclipsing consumer protection law in the digital area particularly in the IoT because software is governed by copyright law, which envisages use of products being licensed rather than the products being purchased. Licensees have far fewer protections as consumers compared with outright purchasers.

In the closing paragraphs of the statement, the national delegations ‘further declare’ that they will: ‘help preserve the fundamental openness of the Internet while concomitantly meeting certain public policy objectives, such as the protection of privacy, security, children online and intellectual property, as well as the reinforcement of trust in the Internet;’. Intellectual property is, we argue, over-protected in as much as consumers may find their computers rendered non-functional by technical protection measures in the event of their having transgressed, usually unwittingly, copyright elements within contracts of licence. Such technical measures are triggered by algorithms, not by agents of service providers and as such, escape judicial controls regarding the extent to which they are justifiable or proportionate. And in that respect, the statement as indeed the panel discussion on the Internet of Things, remained silent. 

Despite the technological razamatazz which characterised much of the conference, the discussion has not kept pace with the excessive technical measures taken against consumers that have been out there in the market place for over a decade now.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Safer Cars for Latin America – The campaign so far

Roundtable participants, including the Vice-Minister for the Environment, Transport Minister, representatives from the State Consumer Protection Agency, AA Peru, ASPEC, CI and El Poder.

Since early 2016, the Bloomberg Philanthropies car safety team at Consumers International (CI) has been working in partnership with consumer groups across Latin America on a regional campaign for safer cars. From our initial campaign planning workshop in Santiago in January, to our recent campaign report launch in Lima, great strides have been made to pressure Latin American governments to tighten up car safety regulation, call out manufacturers for applying double standards on safety, and to raise awareness amongst consumers.

What is the problem?

Each year 1.25 million people die on the roads globally with 74% of these deaths occurring in middle-income countries, such as Peru or Mexico. Road deaths in Latin America stand at 17 per 100,000 people, whereas in high-income countries, the figure is 8.7 per 100,000 people.

The United Nations (UN) has a system of minimum regulations to protect car occupants and other road users when crashes occur, such as seat belts, airbags and active safety systems.

Sadly, no Latin America government, other than Ecuador, is currently anywhere near fulfilling these standards. However, in the USA, or anywhere in Europe, or in Japan, or Australia – these standards are rigorously observed.

As a result, manufacturers, such as GM/Chevrolet, Nissan, Fiat, Volkswagen, Suzuki and Hyundai are producing cars for Latin American consumers with minimal or no safety features. This double standard is causing thousands of preventable deaths on Latin American roads.

Consumer groups pushing for change 

Improving car safety in Latin America is a goal that has united CI Member organisations in Latin America to work together on a regional advocacy campaign, sharing resources and expertise and applying these to pressure for change and support consumers to make more informed choices in their own countries.  For example:

Enrique Prado from the Automobile Association of Peru, Crisologo Caceres from ASPEC, Tamara Meza from CI and Stephan Brodziak from El Poder pose after the press conference
  • El Poder del Consumidor in Mexico is pushing for legislative change, exposing the double standards of manufacturers such as GM/Chevrolet and Nissan and developing great consumer materials to raise awareness of unsafe cars being sold in Mexico.
  • ASPEC in Peru has set up a multi-sectoral platform involving civil society, government ministries and car industry representatives to push for improved legislation in Peru. It is also raising consumer awareness through its daily radio shows broadcast throughout Peru.
  • ODECU in Chile were keynote speakers at the recent Stop the Crash press conference and activity in Santiago to highlight key crash avoidance technologies such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC), and recently had a face-to-face meeting with Minister of Transport regarding improving car safety regulation.
  • Union of Users and Consumers in Argentina have featured on national TV in Argentina calling on consumers to prioritise safety features when they buy a car and has been actively supporting Latin NCAP and highlighting misleading advertising by car manufacturers.
  • Proteste in Brazil has been actively campaigning for the Brazilian government to bring forward the introduction of ESC, which is a potentially life-saving technology that prevents cars from skidding. They achieved widespread national coverage at their press day on ESC in March 2016.

CI report on car safety makes headline news

CI Regional Networker Tamara Meza and Stephan Brodziak from El Poder del Consumidor in Mexico giving interviews

Our most recent campaign highlight was the launch of our campaign report on car safety in Latin America in Lima in Peru in early June. Our report showed the scale of unsafe cars being sold in Latin America, and the poor quality information being provided to consumers about safety and has received some great press coverage. Our research highlighted that:
  • Cars rated with zero or one stars by the New Car Assessment Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean (Latin NCAP) were best selling cars across Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil from 2012-2015
  • Fifteen of the 22 cars tested by Latin NCAP and rated with zero or one stars are still being sold to in Latin America. In Peru - 10 models were available, in Chile - 9 models, Mexico – 5 models and Argentina – 4 models. Brazil has just one model available
  • Latin NCAP have stated that car occupants in such cars would have little chance of surviving a crash at 64 km per hour
  • GM/Chevrolet is the leading manufacturer of zero star cars in Latin America with best-selling zero star cars in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico from 2012-2015. That is at least 700,000 Chevrolet cars that would not be allowed on US roads.

And our qualitative mystery shopping study discovered that:
  • In some cases car dealerships were unable to provide basic safety information to consumers, and instances of citing inaccurate information about car safety, such as saying the addition of two airbags will solve the poor safety performance of a zero star car.
Following the press launch, which has received widespread media coverage, a round table was held with participation from the Vice-Minister for the Environment, Transport Minister, State Ombudsman, State Consumer Protection Agency and Automobile Association of Peru. A multisector platform for advancing car safety was launched at the event and our colleagues at ASPEC had a follow up meeting in late June with the Director General from the Ministry of Transport. This is really brilliant news for the future of car safety in Peru.

Support the campaign

With our Members in Latin America, we been working alongside Global and Latin New Car Assessment Programmes to push for improved car safety regulation.

We are calling on:

  • Governments and manufacturers across Latin America to adopt UN Vehicle Safety Regulations in full. This will stop the sale of unsafe cars and help reduce deaths and injuries on our roads 
  • Manufacturers to provide accessible and accurate information to consumers about safety, in their dealerships and online 
  • Consumer and other organisations concerned about car safety to work together to raise consumer awareness about car safety and the safety ratings of Latin NCAP
You can help stop the shocking double standard in global car safety standards by taking our campaign action

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Why TiSA should be in the global consumer spotlight

This week trade ministers from 22 countries and the EU will meet in Paris to provide political support for negotiations on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). With negotiations already in their 18th round this is a crucial time for Consumers International (CI) to ask: How will this deal affect consumers? Why isn’t there more information available about it? And to demand changes. 

Modern trade agreements are often controversial. Recent negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have led to major media debates, lobbying battles and street demonstrations. Yet TiSA has been negotiated in near silence.

What is TiSA about?

As the name suggests, TiSA focuses on trade in services, which can cover everything from phone-calls to making payments, ordering goods online, international flights and much more.

The current negotiating parties are Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Turkey and the United States. We emphasise ‘current’ because the agreement could be expanded to other countries at a later stage.

With such a large number of countries involved, it’s vital to rally consumers across the globe to ensure that their voice is heard in these negotiations.

How could TiSA be advantageous for consumers?

In theory, TiSA could give consumers more choice at lower prices because companies from more countries will be able to offer services to them. This is a real benefit to consumers, however to fully understand how consumers will be affected it is important to also consider how the agreement may affect other consumer rights - at home, abroad and when they shop online.

For example, consumers want to know that their rights are protected when they purchase a service in their own country or from another TiSA country. They should have clear information about these rights in case something goes wrong and the mechanisms they can use to resolve disputes in an easy, inexpensive and timely manner.

TiSA could also increase quality and fairness in the pricing of roaming services [1]. So when people travel – whether for business or leisure – TiSA should provide them with better and cheaper telecom roaming services in countries that are party to the agreement.

Data protection is also a major issue for many consumers. How can TiSA support efforts to ensure consumers have more information and greater control over how their data is collected, stored and shared?

Establishing rules that work for consumers is not only good for consumers, it is also good for wider economy. After all, rules that increase consumer trust will facilitate more trade.

Worrying signs

However in the texts that we have been able to see, there are worrying demands that the needs of trade liberalisation could be placed above legitimate demands for consumer protection.

Some participating countries would like to introduce rules that would oblige lawmakers to comply with strict criteria and ‘necessity tests’ when proposing new laws. They also want the possibility to comment on draft legislation in other countries, and to allow any interested person to do the same.

Such provisions would limit governments’ ability to regulate in the public interest, because it might be considered a burden to trade.

Urgent need for more transparency

However in order to have a meaningful debate about these issues, we first need to address the shocking lack of information available about the TiSA negotiations. Only a few official documents have been published so far by only two TiSA parties: the European Union (EU) and Switzerland [2]. Some parts have been leaked [3] but these leaks are not comprehensive and are several months old.

This lack of transparency is not in anyone’s interest as it contributes to widespread public mistrust. We do not want to see the debate limited to just pro and anti-arguments. We want to be given the opportunity to be constructive.

CI and our European sister organisation BEUC urge all negotiating countries to provide more information on the content and progress of the talks. We are not alone in this: the European Parliament and many other civil society groups have also made this call. Australia, the European Union and the United States co-chair the talks: they should create a common website to provide information to the public.

[1] http://www.consumersinternational.org/media/1449134/consumeragendaonfairmobileservices-final_vik.pdf

See the webpages of the European Commission: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1133 and the Swiss government: https://www.seco.admin.ch/seco/en/home/Aussenwirtschaftspolitik_Wirtschaftliche_Zusammenarbeit/Wirtschaftsbeziehungen/Internationaler_Handel_mit_Dienstleistungen/TISA/Schweiz_und_TiSA.html

[3]WikiLeaks published leaked consolidated texts of the negotiation: https://wikileaks.org/tisa/

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Will the Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) report make a difference for consumers?

Justin Macmullan, Consumers International’s Head of Advocacy discusses the recent report by the Commission for Ending Childhood Obesity, endorsed by the World Health Assembly last week, and outlines what it means for consumers.

Helping consumers to choose healthy diets is a major challenge when, in many countries, the marketing of food, the food choices available and the prices of different foods all appear designed to promote an unhealthy diet high in calories, fat, sugar and salt.
With 70 million young children predicted to be overweight or obese by 2025 this is a major public health issue and one that Consumers International (CI) and our Members have campaigned on for many years, most recently for World Consumer Rights Day 2015. 
At this year’s World Health Assembly, governments and civil society had the opportunity to consider the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest initiative in this area, the Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) report  which was a personal initiative of Dr Margaret Chan the Director General of the WHO.
The report, which was developed by an appointed commission, delivered more than 30 recommendations across six areas including promoting intake of healthy foods; promoting physical activity; preconception and pregnancy care; early childhood diet and physical activity; health, nutrition and physical activity for school children; and weight management..

What’s in the report?

First of all, as the list of topics shows, this is a report about tackling obesity rather than diet-related disease. Therefore, for example, it includes recommendations on increasing physical activity as this helps to reduce obesity, but not on salt reduction as this is not directly related to obesity.
Looking specifically at the recommendations related to healthy diets, the report includes many of the issues CI and our Members have campaigned on including restricting marketing of unhealthy food to children, improved nutritional information including front of pack labelling, improving the availability of healthy food in public institutions, improving nutrition information in schools, introducing taxes of sugar sweetened beverages, promoting breast feeding. There are gaps – notably in relation to the impact of trade and investment agreements on the ability of governments to take action – but there is also much to welcome.
Another possible criticism is that it offers little that is new but, although this might be true, it does have the benefit of bringing these proposals and recommendations together in one place to create a comprehensive package, stating the proposals clearly and adding the logo of the WHO on the cover, which gives the whole exercise political status and weight.

Will it make a difference?

The challenge is what will happen next. Following a resolution agreed at this year’s World Health Assembly, the WHO is now charged with developing an implementation plan to support the report’s recommendations. If this is going to be effective it must deal with some of the issues that have frustrated previous initiatives in this area. 
CI’s Recommendations for a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets seeks to address these challenges by moving the discussion on from ad hoc initiatives to an international legal framework that would support action on a comprehensive set of policies at the national level. The ECHO report doesn’t include that recommendation, but their implementation plan does have the potential to go some way towards it.
To do that, the key area of accountability must be addressed. The Director General of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, on whose initiative this report was developed, has often used the phrase, ‘what gets counted gets done’ in relation to increasing accountability and delivering results. We hope the same maxim will apply to this important area of work.
A proposal to create a monitoring system as part of the implementation plan could signal genuine progress, but only if it is sufficiently strong, transparent and well publicised and monitors the quality and implementation of policies as well as results. Only this way can governments be held to account for their actions and a clear picture emerge of successes and challenges in implementation.
Read the statement on the ECHO that CI and 9 other NGOs gave at the WHA last week.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Collaborative consumption: From value for users to a society with values

Amaya Apesteguía, Ethical and Collaborative Consumption Project Officer at Consumers International (CI) Member OCU, Spain, reports on the findings of a pioneering piece of research she coordinated on the sharing economy and collaborative consumption.

Carpooling, P2P accommodation, repair cafés, bartering networks, social eating and micro-task sites are just some of the Collaborative Consumption (CC) activities and services that have exploded over the last decade. Driven by technological innovation, all signal a change in the consumption habits of citizens, a shift from a conventional Business-to-Consumer (B2C) model, where the providers of goods and services are always commercial companies, to a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) model based on direct exchanges between consumers. 

Last year, I had the opportunity to coordinate[1] some very interesting international research about this phenomenon. Entitled "Collaboration or Business", it used a multi-method design involving 33 experts, over 8,600 consumers, and a sample of 70 P2P CC platforms across four participating countries.

If I could underline five key- findings, I would choose the following:

1. Collaborative consumption has high levels of awareness and involvement amongst those citizens that responded to the survey, and satisfaction is very high. Only a small percentage of respondents reported being dissatisfied. Reasons for dissatisfaction seemed to be mainly small inconveniences: delays, coordination between parties, cleanliness, lack of personal connection. Unfortunately, the most common way for participants to deal with problems was to do nothing! Not even writing a bad review in the web profile of the other party. Our learning is that better conflict resolutions systems should be put in place by the platforms, as current systems do not seem to be so effective. 

2. Consumers’ reasons for participating in CC are diverse, but the two most frequently mentioned are economic (saving or earning money) and practical reasons (flexible hours, better meets needs, easier, etc.). Ideological motivations included reasons such as “to foster economic relationships between private persons”, “protecting the environment”, “getting to know local people”, “sharing experiences”, and “altruism (donating)”.

3. The legal environment is extremely complex due to the variety of applicable laws, which depend on the status of the parties involved, and also because CC establishes a two level relationship: firstly, between the user and the platform, which is governed by e-service and e-commerce regulations; and then the relationship between users (peers) themselves, where the civil code applies. Additionally, the participation of professional providers on CC platforms adds to the complexity, as consumer protection laws become relevant and must be enforced. Airbnb provides one example of this two level relationship. 
The Airbnb platform lists accommodation from peers with space to offer, and offers a “safe environment to operate” - adding virtual reputation systems, insurances, and electronic payment options. But the booking itself is made between peers.
Overall, we concluded that Peer-to-Peer CC should be simplified rather than over-regulated. However, in B2C relationships, the existing consumer protection regulations should be reinforced.

4. Determining the social, economic, and environmental impacts of CC was a challenging exercise. From our data, it is clear that CC platforms are efficient but their governance models are still far from being collaborative, as the vast majority of the surveyed platforms favour centralised governance models. While some of the platforms articulate positive associations between sustainability and their operations (and in some instances make ‘green claims’), they provide no evidence about how their activities actually benefit the environment.

5. A platform’s orientation is not just a question of what they do but also of how they do it. The balance between business and collaboration varies greatly from one platform to another, even within the same sector. There are three typologies of platforms: 
  • Network oriented: aimed at creating networks of users connected by their common interests and digital reputation. For example: Airbnb and BlaBlacar.
  • Transaction oriented: to facilitate easy and practical exchanges between users. For example: Homeaway and Uber Pop.
  • Community oriented: a transformative paradigm that aims to create stronger communities and promote more sustainable consumption habits. For example: WWOF, Wijdelen (Peerby), Freecycle.

Through this research we’ve seen that platforms act as intermediaries that create a safe environment for users, but they do so through a centralised governance model, whereby they process and control all exchanges. As a result, a risk exists of creating a monopoly or a power imbalance between platform proprietors and their users. 

In the future, blockchain technologies look set to enable direct relations between users. This technology where “the code is the law”, could obviate the need for platforms as such - opening the door to a future of distributed and decentralised relations. Technological innovation challenges the traditional way of doing business and can be a powerful tool for consumers. But the real revolution is not technological, it’s ethical: people owning the technology to create “human” P2P economic exchanges in a fair and safe way.

[1] The research involved four consumers associations - OCU (Spain), Altroconsumo (Italy), Deco Proteste (Portugal), and Test-Achats/Test-Aankoop (Belgium) – in collaboration with Cibersomosaguas (Universidad Complutense of Madrid) and with the advice of Ouishare Spain.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Does the Internet of Things mean we’ll never be left to our own devices?

Liz Coll, Digital Policy Expert, introduces and outlines consumer concerns around the Internet of Things in light of Consumers International's latest report.

Nest’s announcement last month that it would no longer support Revolv’s smart home controller may not have topped many consumer’s concerns, but it clearly demonstrates the kinds of detriment that look set to arise from the Internet of Things

Revolv (acquired by Google’s Nest in 2014) let people connect and control all of the smart switches, security devices, sensors, and heating in their home. This week it will be switched off, so the hardware will no longer function. The Revolv customer (and ‘lifetime’ subscription holder) who first drew attention to this in a blog, sums up the impact of its closure on him: 

 “My house will stop working. My landscape lighting will stop turning on and off, my security lights will stop reacting to motion, and my home made vacation burglar deterrent will stop working. This is a conscious intentional decision by Google/Nest.”

Consumers who bought the product with a lifetime subscription were left wondering whether they would have any rights to refunds, or replacements or what would happen with its data? Since the user outcry, there been a change of heart, and now refunds will be issued for the hub purchase price. 

But is pulling the plug on owned devices a one off, an inconvenient by-product of fast moving technology, or could this be a worrying indication of a potential future for the Internet of Things? We may see a future where device functionality is more and more dependent on remote decisions with little input from owners, and where large companies definition of a product ‘lifetime’ prevails. 

The future’s here

With estimates that, already, 25 billion devices are connected to the Internet of Things – a figure that’s set to double by 2020 -  connected devices now outnumber people by nearly  4 to 1. 

No longer a futuristic concept, the Internet of Things is becoming embedded in everyday life - along with some patterns that may cause alarm for consumers. It’s not just about devices and appliances at the luxury end of the market (such as talking fridges), Consumer International’s (CI) latest research with Members in Kenya, the Philippines and Nigeria discovered that smart systems and products are connecting and collecting data on users and services across all walks of life, including healthcare and public transportation.  

Of course, consumers could stand to benefit in many ways, as more devices across more sectors share usage information and learning. Think of the convenience of a smart car whose tyre sensors detect the precise time at which you need a replacement; the peace of mind of a smart home security system, or items tagged with location sensors; the ease of using a connected transit system across a busy city; or an energy home system that learns and adjusts to your preferences and habits.

The erosion of ownership

So far the capacity of these devices to collect detailed, time sensitive and often personal data and share it with other devices or remote hubs has been the subject of much attention and discussion about privacy. Security is also a huge concern, with much larger surface area meaning increased vulnerability.  

But the implications go much further than this and could, as in the case of Revolv’s smart home kit, suggest a world where the normal expectations of what we can do, and for how long, with things we have purchased are turned on their head.  

Our new report calls this the ‘erosion of ownership’ which could come about as tangible objects take on digital properties by way of the software embedded into them. We expect to see more hybrid products emerging where the part of the product containing software is licenced via contract while the device itself is owned. In such cases, will operation of the device be subject to contract terms which can put unexpected limitations on how the product is used - or in Revolv’s case, if it can actually be used at all? There are even fears that we may start to see the type of remote automated contract enforcement recognisable from digital rights management, where technical blocks are put on to limit particular uses and prevent unauthorised use, repair or plug-ins.

Upholding rights for the future

How easy will it be for consumers to understand or uphold their rights, or attempt to uphold them given such complex lines of responsibility? Or where there is confusion over exactly what a consumer can or can’t do with a product they have purchased? 

We know laws find it hard to keep up with technological developments, and that as products and companies cut across not only sectors but national jurisdictions, that regulation and enforcement of consumer rights is challenging. Additionally, we cannot rely on competition to provide for checks and balances as a small number of companies dominate, and provider lock- in is already evident in the infancy of the Internet of Things.  

To make sure that we really can be left to our own devices if we prefer, consumer protection and concepts of proportionality, fair use and fair processes, must be put at the centre of discussions on the Internet of Things development and delivery. 

What’s more, to move beyond protection and into a scenario where consumers can gain insight and convenience from connected devices on their own terms, services and products should be designed with consumer trust and controls built in, with easy ways to hold companies who overstep the mark to account.

Friday, 13 May 2016

CI Members participate in #FASTAfrica campaign to promote fast, affordable, safe and transparent Internet

Steven Hawkes, Consumers International’s (CI) Fundraising and Partnership Officer reports back on the recent campaign activities by four CI Members involved in #FASTAfrica, a World Wide Web Foundation initiative.

Africa hosts four of the ten fastest growing world economies, and is the fastest growing market for mobile phones. However, Africa has the slowest and most expensive Internet in the world, and the fewest people online (just one in five).

Fast, affordable, safe, and transparent Internet should be a priority for African governments. The benefits of access are wide-ranging and significant, with positive ramifications ranging from healthcare, education and economic growth, to good governance and opportunities for citizen participation.

Photo from the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe's #FASTAfrica campaign.

#FASTAfrica is a campaign action week coordinated by CI partner, the World Wide Web Foundation, with 30 organisations across 19 countries receiving small grants to participate. We are pleased to announce that this included four CI Members who ran the following campaigns:

  •  The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) engaged with college, high school and university students in all five regions of Zimbabwe through a petition which will be submitted to the government Ministry responsible for ICT and the Internet, demanding fast, affordable and accessible services. They are also conducting radio broadcasts to discuss youth views on Internet issues and hosting ‘focus desks’ in shopping malls to increase awareness and digital literacy, and amplify the reach of their campaign petition.
  • Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT) held a series of workshops with consumers (mostly women) on ICT issues and challenges, and ran a media campaign including open letters to the ICT minister and members of parliament involved in the ICT committee. Key challenges NCT are working to address include expensive rates of Internet access and poor network coverage and Internet speeds.
Photo from NCT's #FASTAfrica campaign in Namibia

  • Rwanda Consumers’ Rights Protection Organisation (ADECOR) hosted events in two districts and reached out to journalists with a press conference to discuss the campaign and key issues in Rwanda. They focused on issues of rural access, affordability, poor quality network connections, and how to address cybercrime and online fraud. ADECOR also carried out radio broadcasts in Kigali on affordability and connectivity in Rwanda. As well as reaching many consumers, ADECOR’s events were attended by industry and representatives of the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).

Find out more about the campaign on the #FASTAfrica website. You can also find out more about CI’s Consumers in the Digital Age programme here.