Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A digital world that is all of ours…

On World Consumer Rights Day, Consumers International Director General Amanda Long delivered a speech at the G20 Consumer Summit in Berlin - 'Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust'.




The prize if we can build a digital world that everyone can trust, and where no one is left behind is clear to see.

In Africa, 1 million hand pumps supply 200 million rural water users.  A third of these hand pumps are estimated to be broken at any one time. In Kyuso, Kenya sensors that could detect and report faults quickly led to a 10 fold reduction in problems. Ninety eight per cent of pumps in the area are fully functioning. But that’s not all, sensors also monitor demand which they can link to fairer payments, and usage data can help plan better services. 

In Europe, it is estimated that 10 million people live with dementia. In the UK, doctors are trialling the use of IoT technology to help them pick up signs of changes in behaviour for patients with dementia. Sensors attached to kettles, fridges and even beds can give vital early clues as to how someone is doing – are they making tea as usual? Are they eating food from the fridge? Picking up and acting on these signs can help people stay well and reduce hospital admissions.

These types of stories are why it is so important to work together so we can make full use of the potential of digital technology and achieve these kind of results for everyone. 

It starts with getting more people online. This will bring many benefits for consumers: more choice, convenience and lower prices; an easier say in how services are run; lower barriers to entry for small businesses thus increasing choice. 

For those with access already, there is still much to gain – such as making the most of the potential of digital to expand opportunities for education, entrepreneurship, creation, healthier environments, healthier lifestyles, smoother transport and more efficient energy distribution. But none of this can happen without trust. 


We need trust for a better digital world 


This is the theme of this year’s World Consumer Rights Day and topic of the G20 Consumer Digital Summit that we are co-hosting with vzbv and BMJV as part of the German presidency of the G20 is ‘building a digital world consumers can trust’

But is this accurate? Do we need to improve confidence and build trust to maintain progress on digital? Doesn’t high uptake and enthusiasm for digital technology suggest that people are largely satisfied? Can’t we just carry on the way we have been, fixing problems as we go along? 

Carrying on as we are is of course an option, we could all convince ourselves that mass uptake and satisfaction with service quality is the same as satisfaction with business models, corporate practice and ethics. But that would be to ignore some clear signals coming from consumers about what the digital world can feel like at the receiving end: 

  • 60 per cent of mobile users worry about the privacy and security implications of a world of connected IoT devices. [1]
  • 71 per cent of people worldwide believe brands with access to their personal data are using it unethically. [2]   
  • And in that same survey, that concerns about privacy are consistent across age, gender, country and personality. 

Not properly understanding and addressing these signals would be missing a trick, it would miss the point that despite the enthusiasm and appreciation of what digital interconnectivity can do, it brings both positives and negatives; and, most importantly, it would miss an opportunity to make the system more inclusive and comfortable for everyone.


Paradox of connectivity


The beauty of so much that digital has given us is that it is all connected. The downside of so much that digital is that it is all connected. It’s a paradox of connectivity.

So when everyday things like payments or returning goods mess up, or updates slow down a device, or when uncanny decisions are made about us based on our likes, habits or opinions, when promises about privacy policies feel empty, when it feels impossible to keep your children safe from harm online – all of these things erode our faith in the other amazing things that we do with digital. 

Perhaps part of the problem is that we too often describe the digital world only in terms of numbers – how fast it is, how many connections there are or how much it could grow. 
But we need to also start thinking not just about how much we could grow, but how we can grow, and what we want to grow towards. We can remain inspired and impressed by the speed and innovation of digital technology, but also keep focused on what we as a world want to achieve through digital innovation?


What do we want to achieve through digital innovation?


Answering this question requires listening to the voices of people everywhere - people as consumers, citizens and as representatives of future generations.  

And trust needs to be more than what we call ‘transactional trust’, I.e the nuts and bolts of a transaction between a business and consumer (or consumers and consumers). 

If tech is going to go deeper into people’s lives, it’s no longer enough to say it will bring convenience, or save money. It has to offer more than that, more than just a transaction. Instead, it is way beyond time to think more roundly about consumers and their trust in the whole experience and try to understand what the combined effect of this fast, expansive, powerful and all-seeing digital technology is on people and their communities, their lives and their idea of the future. What does ‘whole experience trust’ look like to people? 

This type of reflection might be regarded as ‘stifling innovation’ or progress, but it’s the opposite - it’s the definition of progress. To progress means to bring people along on the journey, to pay attention to the impact on people, so that we do not leave anyone behind.   Otherwise we risk similar problems of that other current example of the boundary breaking, cross border, disruptive force - globalisation.  Where impact on some ordinary citizens has not been as understood or considered as necessary and some people have ended up feeling left behind and have lost faith in institutions and leaders.  


So who do we trust to build a better digital world?  


It’s up to all of us - consumers should trust their instincts and articulate what kind of digital world they want for themselves and their children.  Businesses should trust their relationships with people and make a stand to behave more responsibly and respond to people’s concerns – to stand out from the crowd.  Governments should trust their citizens to be able to recognise what is fair and right online and find ways to help them get it. 

No single entity can reassure trust.  And in any case, trust in business, government, media and NGOs is in decline in part because people feel these institutions can’t protect them from the negative effects of globalization and technological change.  

We need to face up to some of the complex and big issues of access, ownership, tracking, competition and to work with the fact that we are in flux – and that we don’t have all the answers but that but that we have a better chance of finding them if we work together. 

The recommendations presented at the summit on 15th March are the first time that the role of demand side trust in driving growth in digital has been thought about, and acknowledged on such a major stage. However, they are just the starting point of something bigger. We want to achieve these recommendations and much more beyond in partnership with others, in line with Consumers Internationals’ new commitment to ‘come together for change’.

Only then can we build the #BetterDigitalWorld that we all deserve.

References

1. Mobile Ecosystem Forum, 2016

Monday, 13 March 2017

Consumers and the Internet of Things: one connection too many?

Liz Coll, Head of Digital Advocacy at Consumers International, takes a look at recent trends in the global uptake of connected devices and considers what these trends can tell us about consumer attitudes towards the Internet of Things.  



Last year our report on ‘Connection and Protection in the digital age’ explored the impact of the rapidly expanding trend of the Internet of Things (IoT) – with more and more everyday objects connecting to the internet. As with any ‘next big thing’ topic, the figures looked astounding with some commentators predicting 50 billion IoT devices to be connected by 2020.

New reports in 2017 have not been quite so bold with their predictions. According to analyst firm Gartner, the total number of IoT devices deployed by 2020 is more likely to be just over 20 billion. As with any forecast about the future of the digital economy, there are no certainties – but this drop feels significant. Could it be that consumer attitudes and concerns about connected devices are, at least partly, behind these more reserved predictions in 2017?

Our 2016 report suggested that security concerns and the invasive nature of connected technology would potentially hold back consumer engagement in this next deeper, more personal phase of digital technology. The focus of our work with G20 governments to help ‘Build a Digital World Consumers can Trust’ makes the case that unless consumers can trust digital technology, they won’t readily accept it into their everyday lives.  Getting trust right is therefore a key part of creating a vibrant demand side for the market.

So does it look like this is the case for the consumer market for IoT devices? A report released by Deloitte in 2016 points to an uneven uptake of consumer IoT devices in more developed economies. Connected entertainment devices such as games consoles and smart TVs have maintained a steady growth but sales of Fitbit devices failed to meet expectations.

Some research indicates that this limited take off is because of a failure to meet people’s needs, both in terms of pricing and also the difficulty of use and maintenance. As shown in the MEF Global Consumer Survey from April 2016, the levels of privacy and security were also problematic for consumers, with 62% and 52% of those surveyed reporting these as the biggest concerns, respectively.

Another example of the noticeable consumer resistance to connected devices has been the move by some Fitbit users to turn off the smart elements of their devices off only months after purchasing the products. With novelty seemingly wearing off so quickly, does this mean that penetration of IoT devices won’t happen as all those excited articles predicted?

In reality, it is hard to prove or predict that people won’t buy internet of things products because of a lack of trust. As privacy and technology expert Gilad Rosner somewhat ominously predicted that business momentum will mean that “The Internet of Things will happily march along with lousy privacy and security, and we will be the poorer for it”. 

Connected technology seems to be one of those things that creeps into products – an alarm clock on a smart phone that suddenly wants to become a ‘sleep tool’ to help you enjoy a restful night. An insurance provider that offers a subsidised fitness trackers, for as long as you keep active.

But with high profile internet of things problems such as the #Toyfail and the development of devices such as fertility trackers collecting and analysing sensitive information about one of the most private aspects of people’s lives, perhaps people will start to demand technology that is not just helpful but safe, ethical and human-centered.

How can consumer organisations play a leading role by working with businesses to ensure that connected devices can be safer, less invasive and prioritise consumer interests? Our member Consumer Reports’ new digital standard initiative is an excellent example of how the global consumer movement can evaluate and test the safety of digital products and services, empowering consumers to make informed choices about whether they want to invest in IoT devices. This week, Maria Rerecich of Consumer Reports will speak at an SXSW event that considers how a consumer organisation can include privacy, security, and data practices in its testing protocols.

As consumer organisations continue to monitor ongoing developments in the connected world, it’s vital that the global consumer movement advocates for businesses to build security and privacy in at the design stage. It’s not just the right thing to do but could be a smart business move as consumers look for products they’re sure they can trust  – for your child’s next birthday would you buy a smart toy classed as ‘espionage equipment’?

We are co-hosting the G20 Consumer Summit in Berlin on WCRD this week which will provide an excellent opportunity to engage in a dialogue with governments, business leaders and key stakeholders about the most pressing concerns that consumers face and how to work together to create a better digital world.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Digital Identity - what could it mean for consumers?

In our latest blog post Amanda Long, Director General at Consumers International, discusses the topic of digital identity and the potential benefits and threats for consumers.



The idea of people having an easy way to prove their identity online through a digital identity is not new, but has so far been used mainly by governments enabling citizens’ access to public services. Austrian citizens can use an approved app on their smart phone, or a smart card to apply for benefits, do tax returns or access healthcare. 

A digital identity is a means by which individuals can prove their identity online - for example, job applicants needing to prove their residency status, or even qualifications.  It links up to an identity checking system which can verify that the person with that identity is who they say they are – both online and in person. This means people can use their digital identity credentials to access services or products without having to physically present valuable documents, such as passports, birth certificates, driving licenses or a handful of utility bills.

Digital identity could represent a comprehensive solution to many millions of people who are effectively barred from entry to many things that could improve their quality of life. Without traditional forms of documentation, transactions like renting accommodation, setting up a bank account or getting a mobile phone contract become impossible.

It could also solve problems for consumers in more developed markets, wherever identity is a problem. According to a start-up digital identity provider: “Age verification online would prevent underage users from opening inappropriate social media accounts, and ensure that minors cannot access adult content. It would also help online retailed to confirm that someone is eligible to buy age restricted goods like DVDs, computer games, alcohol, cigarettes and knives” (YOTI)

Digital identity could potentially deliver financial inclusion, seen as a strong route out of poverty - or at the very least accelerates us towards it. The World Bank has a programme dedicated to identity and financial inclusion, ID4D – which “helps countries analyse problems, design solutions, and implement new systems to increase the number of people with official identification and the development impact of the overall identification system.

Of course for some people, the scope that any kind of centralised identity system has for government surveillance and discrimination will be cautious about the implications of digital identity systems. With this large caveat in mind, what is there that we learn from the pioneering steps governments have taken in exploring digital identity that might be useful for budding consumer applications? The UK digital identity verification programme has developed a set of Consumer and Privacy principles to guide practice. 

These types of frameworks will be important as the implications of this technology could be significant. If it is not designed with protection in mind and regulated accordingly:

-          Individuals’ privacy could be at risk, with the potential for personal data for all parts of your digital existence being held by digital ID verification services, as a means to authenticate who you are, with you having little or no control of what’s collected and stored or how it is being used to make decisions about you.  If alternative income streams to monetising consumers’ personal data aren’t identified then the risks to privacy will continue.

-          There is a threat of lack of consumer choice. It is very possible that a critical mass could form of people using a particular digital identity service that means it is effectively forced onto everyone.  This could mean less competition between digital ID verification providers and also a weakening of consumers’ rights to protection. In this scenario, the speed at which a particular service is adopted by a mass of people may mean that the opportunity to check, challenge and reform terms and conditions of the service are reduced. An individual who is swept up with this, who sees it as the only way to continue access to a product, may agree to terms and conditions that if given more time or choice they would not.

-          We might also see a situation where one person would need multiple digital identities, in order to access a variety of services as companies may not recognise the same identity providers.

-          The liability model for digital identity is also complex. For example, should digital identity providers be responsible for actions done based on the authentication they give?

With so much potential for consumer benefit and significant threats at play, consumer organisations must build up their expertise on this issue so they can influence the private sector as it develops digital identity systems. Consumer organisations are in a strong position to draw upon existing public sector practice, and the need for trust, confidence and consumer protection in digital systems to influence this nascent industry for the better.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Internet-connected toys: A #ToyFail with global implications


Amanda Long, Director General at Consumers International, discusses the failure of My Friend Cayla and i-Que dolls to protect consumer privacy and considers what this means for consumers globally. 



The way in which consumers are interacting with the digital world is constantly evolving. With more than 3 billion people now connected to the internet worldwide, there is a growing opportunity for everyday objects to be synced with the web. By 2020, it is forecasted that the number of connected devices will reach 50.1 billion and children’s toys are no exception to this trend.

In the wake of the Norwegian Consumer Council’s #ToyFail report, Consumers International and several of our Members have condemned the miserable failure of My Friend Cayla and i-Que toys to protect consumer data, security and privacy. Not only are these toys dangerously easy for others to gain access to, they are also able to record everything the child says and transfer the recordings to a company that can sell the information on the third parties. 

This irresponsible lapse in consumer protection raises a number of important questions. How has this failure impacted on consumers across the world? What can it tell us about the current gaps between rapid digital innovation and the policies in place to protect consumer privacy and data? How can the global consumer movement use its collective voice to call for change? 

By looking at the manufacturing and distribution network of these toys, it is easy to see that the reach of this issue has no borders. Genesis Toys, the company that produces and develops both the Cayla and i-Que dolls, are based in Los Angeles, California. The products are then manufactured in Hong Kong before being distributed to retailers in the U.S, South Africa, the Middle East, Australia and Scandinavia. British toy company Vivid also distribute the toys to markets in Europe, including the UK, France and Germany. The companion app for the toys is developed by ToyQuest, who have offices across the globe and are partnered with a wide range of licensors including Disney, Nickelodeon and DreamWorks. 

The international reach of these companies is hugely significant. The availability of the toys in a wide range of markets maximises the number of consumers affected by the breaches in security and privacy. The capacity of national consumer protection policies in each market will also differ from country to country, leaving some consumers more exposed than others. 

Digital innovation is undoubtedly a key driver of progress and has the potential to create many opportunities for consumers. The benefits should not, however, come at the expense of the rights of individuals. Consumers must feel that they can use their products safely and securely without concerns that their thoughts, opinions and feelings will be passed on to the highest bidder. Trust should be at the forefront of every relationship between digital providers and consumers. In this case, it would seem that the trust of parents and children using the toys has been undermined. 

It is also essential that companies adopt a design-philosophy that puts safety, privacy and security at the top of their priority list when developing new products. As the speed with which the creation of new technologies and devices accelerates, manufacturers and governments must make sure that their safeguarding of consumer interests keeps up the pace. 

As this story continues to develop, we must ensure that the collective voice of consumers across the globe is heard. Working together with our Members, Consumers International has acted quickly to brief and share engagement tools with consumer organisations in affected markets outside of Europe, enabling them to liaise with the relevant national authorities and media outlets. Regardless of where consumers are based in the world, we are calling for the manufacturers to:

  • Not collect more data than necessary for the functionality of the service
  • Prevent these kind of issues resurfacing by adopting a design-philosophy of privacy and security by design.
  • Make these toys safer by increasing security features in how devices are paired, to stop unauthorised people from connecting to the toy.
  • Stop all direct marketing to children through to apps

By following these guidelines and prioritising consumer protection, digital providers can begin to move towards a world in which consumers can fully benefit from advances in technology without the fear of their rights being eroded.

Sources
- #Toyfail: An analysis of consumer and privacy issues in three internet-connected toys, Norweigan Consumer Council
- Here’s How Many Internet Users There Are, TIME
- IoT: number of connected devices worldwide from 2012 to 2020, Statista

Friday, 18 November 2016

World Antibiotics Awareness Week: Global food brands must take Antibiotics off the Menu

Anna Glayzer, Advocacy Manager at Consumers International, outlines the need for an urgent, global response to the world's escalating antibiotic resistance crisis. 


This week is World Antibiotics Awareness Week. Given the seriousness of the public health crisis we are facing, there are few topics more in need of heightened worldwide awareness than antibiotic resistance. Many people do not realise that we are a few decades away from the end of modern medicine as we know it. By 2050 drug resistant infections will cause 10 million deaths- becoming a bigger killer than cancer is today.

Resistance to antibiotics occurs naturally with use, making it essential that we use these drugs sparingly, for the treatment of disease, where prevention and other methods of treatment have failed. Instead, the irresponsible use of antibiotics is a major driver of resistance.  Farm animals consume two thirds of the world’s antibiotics. These vital drugs are often routinely added to feed to make animals grow faster or to counter unsanitary conditions in factory farming facilities.

This week is also the one year anniversary of the publication of research showing that the threat from Colistin resistance was far greater than previously realised. Colistin is one of the antibiotics on the World Health Organization’s critically important list. It is used in human medicine as a drug of last resort- something to be prescribed when other antibiotics have failed. Colistin resistant infections in food animals and humans are spreading around the world.This is being driven by agricultural use of Colistin, which continues to rise year on year.

Our campaign #AntibioticsOffTheMenu is about calling on global food businesses to end the routine use of all antibiotics included on the World Health Organization’s list of critically important antibiotics. This week we have published an open letter to the CEOs of KFC, Subway and McDonald’s calling on them to make global commitments to end the routine use of all antibiotics included on the World Health Organization’s list of medically important antimicrobials, in all of their livestock supply chains. This means prohibiting suppliers from using these antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention and only using these antibiotics when there has been a diagnosis of illness.

Global food brands like KFC, Subway and McDonald’s are in a position to make an impact on the antibiotic resistance crisis, faster than legislation alone. Subway and McDonald’s have already made commitments in North America. In the USA Subway has committed to only source meat and poultry raised on no antibiotics. McDonald’s USA already serves chicken in the raised without the routine use of any of the antibiotics from the WHO list, with McDonald’s Canada soon to follow.

We welcome the progress by Subway and McDonald’s in North America but action in one country or one region is simply not enough. Antibiotic resistance does not respect national boundaries.  Our food and farming systems are more globalised now than ever. Resistant bacteria spread from the guts of farm animals via faeces, air, soil, water, contact with farm workers, contaminated meat.

The response to the antibiotic resistance crisis the world is now facing will need to be multifaceted. Prudent use in human medicine, better hygiene in health care and the development of new drugs will be needed.  We cannot escape public health disaster unless we tackle agricultural use of antibiotics.

The World Health Organization, the UN, the G20, governments, scientists, consumer and environmental advocates, academics and medical professionals all over the world are calling for urgent action to stop the threat of antibiotic resistance.  Global, consumer facing food brands should act now, and act globally.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Taking global action to end childhood obesity

Hannah Brinsden, Head of Advocacy & Public Affairs at the World Obesity Federation, discusses childhood obesity ahead of World Obesity Day 2016


This year World Obesity Day, which takes place on 11th October, is focusing on childhood obesity. The message is simple:  Governments need to up their game and urgently take leadership and comprehensive action to end childhood obesity.

In the last decade, childhood overweight and obesity has risen significantly around the world. Figures from 2013 show that approximately 222 million school-aged children globally are overweight or obese and our latest estimates suggest that this number is set to rise by about 20% by 2025. The impact of this is not to be underestimated. Not only does it put our children’s future health at risk but it impairs their immediate health, increasing their risk of type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This puts our already struggling health systems under more strain. This is preventable and the need for action is unquestionable, but what will it take for the required action to be taken?

Obesity is a chronic form of malnutrition and in many low- and middle-income countries it is often found alongside undernutrition. This means that nutrition policies that promote healthy growth, ensure household nutrition security and protect children from marketing and advertising of foods which have low nutritional quality will be an essential part of our efforts to end childhood obesity.

Arguably we’ve come a long way in nutrition policy over the last few decades. More and more countries are starting to implement marketing restrictions, school meal guidelines, interpretative nutrition labelling and sugar taxes. But it’s not nearly enough. While best practices can be found, very few countries have implemented the full package of multi-sectoral policies. This is despite extensive research and repeated recommendations for action in this area, most recently in the report of the WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity

So why the resistance? Some of this will be due to a lack of capacity, in other cases a result of the prioritisation of other issues. But in most cases it comes down to an issue of political will. Not so much a lack of political will to protect the health of our children, I think you’d be hard pushed to find someone who would admit to that (!), but a lack of political will to challenge the commercial drivers of our unhealthy food environments. This leaves governments exposed to weak and voluntary policies and a leniency in favour of private interests rather than the public good. As a result, childhood obesity, and indeed adult obesity, continues to rise.

If we are to improve the global state of nutrition, strengthen national food sovereignty and reduce childhood obesity we need to consider something different and more far-reaching. If we are to have hope of change, we need to explore legally-binding frameworks to protect and support governments, particularly in regional economic areas and smaller nations. Having a legally binding mechanism would help to define minimum nutritional standards to drive commercial food markets and the operation of global food trade. Further, it would help governments to enact the policies required to end childhood obesity and would help to protect governments and citizens from commercial interests and food markets which often undermine efforts to protect health.  

So this World Obesity Day, we are calling on governments around the world to fulfil their commitments made earlier this year and to take urgent action to end childhood obesity. We must also explore the mechanisms that will be required to effectively implement such a comprehensive package of policies. A legally binding framework to protect diets isn’t about hindering governments, it’s about supporting them in taking the required steps, as difficult as they may appear, to protect the health of citizens all around the world, and to ensure a healthier future for all. 

For more information about World Obesity Day visit www.obesityday.worldobesity.org

For more information about Consumer International and World Obesity Federation’s calls for a framework to protect and promote healthy diets see here

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

How can consumers make meaningful choices in the digital world?

This week, Amanda Long, Director General of Consumers International spoke at EDPS-BEUC conference on Big Data: Individual Rights and Smart Enforcement [1]in Brussels which brought together issues of competition, consumer protection and data protection.  You can read Amanda’s full speech here. Below is an extract.
Questions of size, power, competition and choice have never been so important to our understanding of consumer protection and empowerment in the digital world.  The reach of so many big internet companies is remarkable: one in two global internet users visit Amazon on a monthly basis[2].  Google has a 71% share of the search market globally, rising to 90% in the European Union[3]. WhatsApp is the top messaging app in 109 countries, or 56% of the world.[4]

Consumers are feeling the direct impact that such large players have on their individual choices: from privacy tools disappearing from app stores[5], or WhatsApp users seeing the service bought out by Facebook, followed by changes to the terms of data sharing [6],  to the impenetrable terms and conditions which people must agree to in order to access digital services[7].  These digital services that quickly link up friends, music, events and travel are convenient and can be great fun but can also feel a bit like a lobster pot - easy to get into but very tricky to get out of.

Many multinational platforms and digital companies have become indispensable to contemporary life, offering high quality, convenient digital interactions. The data monetisation model behind some, where people ‘exchange’ information about themselves for the service with no upfront financial cost, makes for a tantalising offer.   They are the default by which consumers experience and interact with digital - the gateway to the internet if you like: we don’t search, we Google, we don’t make videocalls, we Skype.

The dominance of a small number of firms is significant because people’s choice over whether to engage or not in the digital world is becoming increasingly limited.[8]  If a few large companies effectively become gateways to all the internet has to offer, then we have to ask questions about how their size and dominance impact consumer choice, power and protection?

In the European Union, the prospects of keeping markets competitive and consumers protected are closely tied. It is suggested that competition itself can offer a protection of sorts by creating markets where companies compete for customers on the basis of value, quality and strong consumer credentials. In reality, without a range of options, and without an easy way to move between these options, it is difficult for consumers to sever ties if they are unsatisfied with a particular service. As a result, it becomes very hard to gauge whether people are happy or unhappy with services and the way companies operate. Classic ideas of competition and consumer protection are therefore stretched. 

Looking ahead to the next phase of digital consumption; the internet of things, heavy reliance on a small number of large companies could become even more important.  As well as raising privacy and security issues, the internet of things marks a major change in how we think about consumption, purchase and ownership. This is mostly because of so-called ‘hybrid’ products [9]– where physical products are owned by the customer, yet the presence of software means the device is subject to contract terms and conditions, which could put unexpected limitations on its use or make exiting a contract difficult.

Large established players already marking out territory in the internet of things will have to gather and connect data to as many objects and people as possible to make their connected services thrive. The more data points connected, the more potentially valuable the insights, so drawing in and retaining as many customers as possible will be top of companies’ agenda.  Exercising choice could get harder for consumers, as they lean towards contracting with one company as an easy way of bringing together multiple services. In practice, switching provider by exiting contracts will be time consuming or inconvenient.  Add to this the difficulties in transferring data between suppliers and lock in seems more and more inevitable.
These limitations on choosing between providers are really important for the digital age.  If competition can no longer effectively deliver consumer protection through providing choice, then we need to approach things differently.   In fact there is the real opportunity to forge a positive consumer agenda for the digital age that addresses areas of consumer concern and offers real choice over how to participate.  A complex, integral and dominating set of relationships should not put us off arguing for a fairer and more accountable digital system for consumers.
For example:
-          Data portability and system interoperability – to enable easy transfer between different services, keep different options open, and keep the value of data close to consumer control
-          Smarter use of information, and more transparency on how decisions based on data are made, not just what data is collected.  
-          Innovations that aid consumer understanding and build consumer trust and confidence such as personal data intermediaries. 

The genie is out of the bottle.  Widespread digital technology is here.  There is real potential for consumers to benefit but also a flip side presenting widespread negative consumer outcomes.  It is up to us to work together to ensure that the practices and delivery of large digital companies stand up to the scrutiny and expectations of the people whose lives are so entwined with them.