New guidance from the Organisation for Economic Co-operations and Development has called on governments across the world to implement adequate data privacy, legal and other protections for consumers of digital content.
Drawing on surveys and archives of complaints by these consumers – which of course refers to just about anyone with an internet connection – the report suggests that digital technology has been accelerating at a pace that far outstrips digital ethics and digital policy. The “Consumer Policy Guidance on Intangible Digital Products” study makes for some grim reading in parts, citing numerous examples of woefully inadequate information disclosure about how user data is being collected and used, “misleading and unfair” commercial practises and a failure to be upfront about how (and with whom) personal data is being shared.
The OECD study contains a full 23 pages of new recommendations, directly addressing consumer complaints about ambiguous or obscure terms and conditions, the security of online payments, and the rights and guarantees available to consumers when they make purchases from sellers based in other countries.
In an age of the mass uptake of mobile devices, ultra-fast broadband, online payment systems and cloud computing, the study notes that a vast collection of entities have access to the personal data of consumers whenever they buy ecommerce products (the list includes online merchants, payment systems, OS platform providers, data analytics companies, loyalty programme administrators and content and app developers). Every time you update an app or read an e-book, listen to streaming music or view streaming video, a range of companies are quietly, perhaps stealthily, collecting the personal data involved.
The fact is that digital content consumers include digital content creators, whether they’re into video production or web copywriting. When online companies fail to let consumers know prior to a digital purchase that they will be collecting, sharing or otherwise using the data transferred, everyone is affected. And according to the OECD, the collection of very sensitive data such as health information, financial status and geolocation should require prior, informed consent.
While it’s true that very little of this mass data collection was driven by malignant intent, maybe it’s high time that consumer privacy and rights should be respected at least as much their spending power.