Happy Consumer Rights Day 2019!
15 March is World Consumer Rights Day, an annual occasion for celebration, impact and global solidarity within the international consumer movement. Each year consumer organisations mark the day by joining together to highlight and raise awareness of an issue that is important to consumers around the world. World Consumer Rights Day is our chance to make the biggest impact possible. Working together, our voices calling for change are far more powerful than they would be alone.
The issues with smartphones and smart devices
Affordability: Whilst several governments have introduced measures like cutting import duties to make smart devices and phones cheaper for consumers, the cost of data still presents a barrier to internet access.
Safety and security: Smart products are all part of a larger connected systems and networks, and a vulnerability in any part can compromise the entire system. In recent years we have seen numerous high-profile cyberattacks that start by hackers accessing unsecured consumer devices. In 2016, a major cyberattack disrupted internet services across North America and Europe by attacking unsecure printers, home wifi routers and baby monitors allowing the virus to spread quickly, infecting nearly 65,000 devices in less than 24 hours.
In addition to network and service disruption, unsecure smart devices also put consumer’s safety directly at risk. Researchers have shown they can hack devices and take control of them remotely – in one example, security researchers were able to gain access to a connected car and control the steering wheel, braking system and door locks.
Data privacy and protection: A 2018 global consumer study revealed that 52% of users are more concerned about their online privacy compared to one year ago. While 43% of respondents from a different survey said they wanted to know more about the data collected about them via their connected devices and 47% worried about identity theft. A significant data privacy risk arises from devices being able (and indeed designed) to communicate with each other and to transfer data autonomously to third parties. Objects within a connected system may collect data or information that is innocuous on its own but which, when collated and analysed with other information, could reveal quite accurate knowledge of an individual resulting in increased user-traceability and profiling.
Transparency: Consumers may understand device functionality but the way in which their data is collected and used and how it relates to a company’s business model is often unclear. A study by 25 international privacy regulators showed 59% of devices failed to adequately explain to customers how their personal information
was collected, used and disclosed. Consumers International member Deco Proteste in Portugal, carried out mystery shopping for Smart TVs in shops. They found that no prepurchase information was available to consumers on how the devices collected and used their data. However, agreeing to the provider’s data collection policy is essential in order to use the TV.
Interoperability: Ensuring that the different smart products consumers own are able to communicate with each other is
important for consumers to get the most out of their devices. If you were to buy a home assistant and find it could not connect to other devices in your home this would severely limit its functionality. If devices only operate effectively with others made by the same company, consumers can be locked in to one system, thus limiting
choice and competition.
Security updates: A common problem with connected devices is the lack of security updates. If updates are not made available, devices can become vulnerable to viruses or cyber-attack, however there is no requirement on companies to provide updates and no agreement as to how long they should provide them.
Excerpts from Consumers International Consumer Rights Day 2019 campaign material.
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