Friday, 5 June 2015

Towards a Magna Carta for the Internet

Speaking at the Web We Want Festival at the Southbank Centre, London, CI’s Director General Amanda Long explains why a ‘Magna Carta’ for the web could be the vehicle to delivering established consumer rights for everyday digital consumers.  

The concept for developing a Magna Carta for the web is an initiative being taken by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Foundation.

The web has transformed consumer experiences, with the Internet fundamentally changing for the better how people interact and transact with markets. 

We can now engage at a time of our choosing, draw on a massive volume and range of information, select from unprecedented choice; all with access to global markets on hand held devices. 

The Internet also transforms notions of what it actually is to be a consumer – we’re pro-consumers and collaborators on the web. Creating, curating and sharing content including rating and reviewing our experiences.

Because the web grants access to a media for the masses, where information flows bottom up, at scale, for the first time in history, dynamic new forms of consumer empowerment emerge. 

However, whilst the web makes collaboration easy - from forming groups to aggregating demands to achieve a shared goal - these many benefits come with major challenges. 

Technology outpacing consumer protection

Back in 1962, in a landmark address to Congress on Consumer Protection, President Kennedy observed that: “The march of technology….has increased the difficulties of the consumer along with the opportunities; and it has outmoded many of the old laws and regulations and made new legislation necessary.”

For our Members, that observation has worrying relevance today. In our recent Consumer Protection Survey their responses contained a clear message that: The rapid evolution of the digital economy is outmoding and outpacing consumer protection. 76% felt enforcement of consume protection was ineffective in the digital economy – worse than any other sector.

Access is a significant consumer challenge; the majority of consumers are yet to use the internet, let alone see the benefits. There is also the issue of having reliable, good connection alongside, affordability, quality of customer service from the providers and unfair and overlong contracts. User license agreements are often too long, too complex and too inflexible, making consent look like submission.

In some cases consumers are being exploited for their data by companies using it to enable discriminatory, personalised pricing. The question of ‘who owns our data?’ is an increasingly important current issue.

Why we need a Magna Carta for the web

We really are at a vital stage in the evolution of the web, in the digital century it is an essential service. Considering the challenges that consumers face we need to establish users’ rights and ensure they are respected. A ‘Magna Carta’ for the web has the potential to be:
  • global in its application and reach;
  • not subject to the vagaries of implementation that afflict institutional responses;
  • draw directly on the voice, aspirations and priorities of web users in its drafting and reflect them in its final form;
  • an effective tool of self-regulation if companies voluntarily commit to its principles;
  • the stimulus, building political will to develop relevant legislation, and for policy-making in nations.
The web we want

This Magna Carta initiative represents an ideal opportunity to articulate a vision of the web where:
  • Innovation can still move fast, without playing fast and loose with established rights;
  • Commercial success online is based not on a business model that exploits users, but on ensuring users are better able to exploit all the potential of all of the web.
The ‘Magna Carta’ could be the vehicle to deliver this and consumer rights have the potential to be one of the key agents for change globally. 


  1. The concept is good but the article provides no clues as to anyone/body that is drafting such a digital Magana Carta. Is CI being shy , or is it actually working on such a charter?

    I would point out that complete freedom for consumers could actually be detrimental to a regions economy if fulfilment of needs is from a large warehouse a country away. Cheapness may be seen as the be all and end all the consumer rights but if it prevents development of local industries and even shops as they cannot compete with global suppliers that area will always be poor.

  2. Many Thanks for your comment. The Magna Carta for the Web initiative is being taken by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Foundation, of which he is the founder. Consumers International is raising the point that this is an opportunity and a need to ensure the consumer voice is part of the creation of any such Magna Carta to ensure consumer protection is core to the thinking.