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8 December 2023

C is for collaboration – Day 2 of Consumers International Global Congress

By Chandni Gupta

(Reproduced from CFA

Today the Congress was abuzz with passionate consumer advocates, experts and regulators taking a deep dive into everything from scams and AI to greenwashing and digital wallets. But at the heart of so many discussions today was the value of and the critical need to collaborate. It was recognised that collaboration both within and across borders is needed to help raise the voices on key issues impacting consumers and to learn from one another. Below are some of the highlights from Day 2!

Working and learning together on AI standardisation

An early start this morning, kicking off at 7 AM for an interactive roundtable on AI Standardisation run by the Alan Turing Institute. Recognising the synergies of collective learning and action, the Alan Turing Institute has established an AI Standards Hub. The institute recognised the role of consumer organisations in the standards-making process through championing issues, advocating for vulnerable consumers and providing data on consumer complaints. While roundtable participants acknowledged the benefits of collaborating on standardisation, they cautioned on the resource intensity of participating in standard-making processes. Many raised the issue of costs and time, the inability to participate as a consumer advocate in some jurisdictions if technical qualifications are not met, and the uncertainty of whether voluntary standards will progress towards becoming legal obligations in a timely manner. Despite the challenges, there was eagerness to come together to continue learning and staying informed in this evolving field.

The word scam doesn’t cut it – it’s criminal activity

Moderated by CHOICE’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Rosie Thomas, with opening statements from Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, the panel advocated for the need for scams to be recognised as criminal activity that is becoming more sophisticated by the day. For too long, the burden has rested on individuals with consumer naivety and victim-blaming being the usual narrative when consumers incur losses via scams. Online platforms, banks and telecommunication industries need to be held accountable for preventing and mitigating scams. While that seems like a pipe dream for many jurisdictions, it is very much becoming the reality in the UK with its Online Safety Act and its Bill on scams and fake reviews. In Poland enforcement action on fake reviews is on foot, with even influencers being held accountable when perpetuating fake reviews.

The session also saw the launch of the Global Statement on Stopping Online Scams led by CHOICE Australia and signed by over 20 organisations – a true mark of global collaboration calling for governments to adequately protect consumers against scams on technology platforms.

Towards an environmentally responsible future

With sustainability being a key focus for the Congress, sessions on plastic pollution and greenwashing unpacked the tangible steps that jurisdictions need to take to ensure they’re moving towards a more sustainable future. At the plastic pollution session, there was a broad call to introduce strict reduction targets for single use plastics with a potential of a treaty to form an international agreement that collaboratively combats plastic pollution.

When it came to sustainable consumption, the greenwashing panel called for making green claims more meaningful and comparable for consumers. Standardisation of language and substantiating claims were key call-outs from the regulators on the panel. However, Consumer Policy Research Centre’s CEO Erin Turner, noted that substantiation can only go so far. She called for the need to get to a point of comparability that’s meaningful for consumers, while also making sustainable the default with access to product repairability being part of the solution.

The consumer relationship with Digital Wallets

With the rise in demand of unsecured short-term loans, Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) is becoming a fast-growing avenue to meet that demand (1 in 10 people in UK will use BNPL for their Christmas shopping this year). Evaluations of popular apps raise concerns about over-collection of data, hidden costs, and the risk of over-extension due to loan stacking. Tec-Check in Mexico noted issues with high-interest rates, aggressive debt collection, and risks of unknown transactions which can often be scams. Discussions also highlighted challenges across Switzerland, and the US, with calls for stronger online redress mechanisms, national debt registries, and outcomes-based regulation. Participants advocated for transparency, suitable product design, and protections that consider consumer behaviour.

Technology’s role in regulation

TechReg is fast becoming a possible solution for regulators to use technology to support their enforcement objectives. In a time-poor world where digital transactions aren’t in the thousands but the thousands of billions, is TechReg the way forward in effective enforcement? CHOICE’s Rosie Thomas emphasised the role of consumer organisations in advocating for regulators to access data inclusively and safely. TechReg using real-life use cases can allow regulators to understand real-world consumer outcomes, pinpoint providers that need enforcement attention, and identify enforcement priorities. There is also the potential to publish data insights gained from outcomes of TechReg initiatives which can facilitate reputational regulation and incentivise businesses to course-correct. However, the panel noted that challenges include the need for well-resourced regulators that have the power to access the data they need from businesses. What is needed is regulators being empowered to effectively leverage data for meaningful enforcement outcomes.

And that’s a wrap for Day 2! If you’re keen to follow the discussions live for the final day, check out the virtual attendance options via the Programme – Consumers International.

All images source: Consumers International


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