Lucy Hopkins from Consumer Focus asks us to consider the potential pitfalls for consumers in the internet era, and how regulators can pre-empt the dangers.
world where a company can refuse you a loan because one of your friends on
Facebook has a bad credit rating.
get worse deals than others when buying online because a company has tracked your
search patterns and knows that you’re not much of a bargain hunter.
leave negative comments for a company on a review site and someone starts
posting malicious information about you online which spreads like wildfire,
leading to you losing your job.
just some of the problems that an increasing number of people could be facing
in the digital age.
This is not
to say that digital advances are a bad thing. Widespread access to the internet
and the tools and applications that have been built on it has brought many
benefits—such as increased access to information, transparency, convenience and
new means of communication—to millions of people.
But there has
been less focus on what potential risks and challenges will emerge from how
providers will deploy these technologies. Consumer Focus’ review of digital
downsides 'All that's digital isn't gold: The challenges and risks of the digital age,' (pdf) aims to do just that.
issues from new web monopolies and online reputation management to unfair terms
of data sharing and biased search engine results.
The aim of
highlighting these and other detriments is to prompt debate and persuade those
who are in a position to pre-empt and prevent these (regulators, enforcers,
consumer groups and companies that operate in this area) to understand and
respond to these consumer issues now
before they become widespread problems.
these downsides, it becomes clear that there is not one, single way of
addressing or mitigating their effects. The rapid pace of change in the digital
world moves faster than traditional regulatory approaches are typically able
to, meaning classic responses might not always be suitable for the problems
that are emerging.
pace and unpredictable nature of change also makes it difficult to anticipate
problems and plan responses.
regulators, and other bodies working in the consumer interest, will need to
start to consider how they can be more agile in order to respond to the
challenges these detriments will present to our traditional regulatory