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Summit Day 2 – Wednesday 1 May

On Day 2 of the official Digital Hive Summit we heard some similar themes discussed around the importance of trust in the new digital economy and the need for greater collaboration, knowledge and capacity building.

Key takeouts from Day 2 included:

  • The necessity for consumer organisations / consumers to be involved from the design of the innovation or technology rather than the end of the supply chain.
  • The challenge of incorporating sustainability and environmental goals within consumer digital policy.
  • The need for civil society to adapt to realities of a connected digital world. Regulation also needs to adapt to acknowledge products and services that are connected objects.
  • By and large, consumers want new AI and IoT products, but there is a tension between consumers fears (privacy, security) and their actions (purchasing products they don’t trust). They also experience products and data practices as a take it or leave it proposition.

Connection and protection in the consumer Internet of Things

(Helena Leurent, Consumers International; Andrew Sullivan, The Internet Society; Rita Hagl-Kehl, German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection; Justin Brookman, Consumer Reports; and, Ashley Boyd, Mozilla)

The panel discussed consumer attitudes and actions when it comes to IoT: consumers often regard IoT devices as ‘creepy’ and yet still purchase the products. Both product safety protections and greater transparency, education and consumer choice were discussed.

  • Consumer International/IPSOS/Internet Society released research into consumer attitudes towards IoT. Three key findings:
    • People are buying things that they know they don’t trust. They don’t trust that data is being handled correctly, or that devices only work when they say they should, and believe that the devices are surveilling them. The Internet Society suggests this indicates a large market for manufacturers investing in trustworthy IoT devices.
    • Consumers know that they are buying things they don’t know how to operate, presenting significant opportunity to make interfaces more intelligible for consumers.
    • 88% of consumers want government to do something about privacy and security. In sample countries, regulations do need to play a strong role in product safety.
  • IoT product safety is more complex because traditional regulation assumes consumersobjects stay in one physical place, but IoT is in the cloud.
  • The German Federal Ministry of Justice identified three elements of actions for consumer protection in this area:
    • Good consumer information – pictures/pictographs.
    • Quick responses required from consumer organisations on consumer complaints – make public, give to govt, give to companies.
    • Using liability law to encourage good behaviour.
  • Consumer Reports commented that there are no norms regarding data collection, security, longevity of device, and ownership with IoT products.
  • Mozilla cautioned that the fast pace of software development and the short lifetimes of many IoT companies means regulation is often too slow. Consumers need to understand that we now buying ‘systems’ rather than standalone products.
  • Lastly, the panel discussed how consumers be incentivised to behave in ways that encourage manufacturers to make trustworthy consumer objects. Audience participation highlighted the need to balance strong regulation with consumer empowerment

How can consumers tell if Artificial Intelligence is on their side?

(Henrique Lian, PROTESTE; Jake Lucchi, Google Asia Pacific; Liz Coll, Consumers International; Ashim Sanyal, Consumer VOICE)

PROTESTE proposed that conceptually, AI is the new ‘invisible hand’ of the market. Consumers International today released an ethnographic research report on AI, which Consumer Policy Research Centre was pleased to have had an opportunity to contribute to.

Key conclusions included the follow needs:

  • To improve accountability.
  • Enable agency and control.
  • Find a common definition of AI.
  • To identify the new harms and find effective remedies.

Consumer VOICE commented that consumers are often in the AI system without making a choice to be so. AI has lots of potential positives, such as assisting people with disabilities. Regulation is only at the start of working out effective remedies, and consumer groups and government need to have a technical capability to do so.

Google commented that AI can support better research for good social outcomes, they are making their datasets more publicly available and partnering with academia, government and civil society. Privacy, bias, explainability and accountability are all emerging issues in this space. Google also acknowledged there are clear areas where more regulation is required, including safety and liability. EuroConsumers put forward the view that there needs to be greater regulation to protect the economic interests of consumers in the market, especially when their data is helping to build the AI.

Smart from the start: best practices in privacy and security for smart products

(Frederic Donck, The Internet Society; Taylor Bentley, Government of Canada; Jeff Wilbur, The Internet Society; Ed Venmore-Rowland, UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; Kat Megas, National Institute of Standards and Technology USA).

This session examined developments in IoT principles, standards and regulations in the USA, Canada and the UK.

  • NIST noted the call for harmonisation in IoT consumer protections. The first and quickest step is to identify the minimum cyber security standards any IoT device should be able to support.
  • Canadian economic ministry has brought together stakeholders from academic research network, the Internet Society, and other organisations to discuss approaches to IoT devices. They will be publishing a report in late May 2019 that will focus on:
    • Consumer education and awareness.
    • Labelling and standards – backed by internationally harmonised statements.
    • Network resilience.
  • UK set out a Codeof Practice in October 2018.
  • The UK is developing a labelling scheme and consumer guidance recommendations.
  • The Internet Society also has a trust framework to deal with IoT and supported the move for harmonisation in guidelines for IoT.
  • The Government of Canada noted that trust is tied to adoption and more use and maximising opportunities of IoT. It is possible and beneficial for consumers to be part of the policy development process in this space.
  • A BEUC representative in the audience noted that the traditional approach is to ensure products are safe through technical standards, but this is not sufficient with connected products. Regulation doesn’t cover the risks that come from connected products (e.g. burglary from hacking smart products). It is not enough to inform consumers and introduce labelling. There needs to be a concept that products need to be safe full stop. Panel members agreed, but noted that it will be an interactive process with many small steps. It is important to get at least some protections installed in the short-term, while working towards better solutions.

Access at any cost? How to build confidence in consumers around the Internet

(Teresa Moreira, UNCTAD; Nanjira Sambuli, World Wide Web Foundation; Lillian Nalwoga, CIPESA; Dimitar Dimitrov, Wikimedia)

This session highlighted the different issues for internet accessibility in developed and developing nations.

Teresa from UNCTAD highlighted key issues with mobile internet access – can be more expensive and lower quality. Issue has been addressed through services offering free internet in exchange for using their services, but this too comes with additional risks.

  • The World Wide Web Foundation noted that affordability access to the internet and the devices to connect are major issues. 24 countries out of 61 developing countries looked at did not have affordable internet (based on cost of 1G of data).
  • Mobile first/only brings special challenges in terms of consumer protection, e.g. it hard to do work on a mobile phone. Consumers in these economies often lack of sufficient digital literacy to operate a phone, agency to create content and the availability of content in local language (e.g. govt services). All these factors create barriers.
  • CIPESA also noted that low literacy rates is a barrier to internet access. There are also infrastructure challenges like electricity availability and reliability, especially in more rural areas. Another challenge is network disruption. The network is not reliable or switched off when convenient for governments. This makes citizens suspicious of the platform.
  • Wikimedia advocated for minimum standards or guarantees to protect customers. If the goal is to give people access to as much diverse knowledge as possible then bundled deals (free access for service usage) aren’t great.
  • CIPESA stated that multiple solutions are required to improve internet access, including proper ICT policies and infrastructure investment, including electricity.

Inspirations for the future – coming together for change

(Helena Leurent, Consumers International; Gilly Wong, Hong Kong Consumer Council; Rosemary Siyachitema, Consumer Council of Zimbabwe; Henrique Lian, PROTESTE; Ashley Boyd, Mozilla; and, Hugh Weldon, EVOCCO)

The panel reflected on the main messages coming out of the conference: better transparency, diversity, collective action and securing fair value are key.

The Hong Kong Consumer Council noted that:

  • Disrupting choices are not just for business but for all participants, including civil society.
  • Transparency of information is required not just for point of purchase but for the whole supply chain. We need to ensure consumers receive more transparency and a fairer proposition.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe commented that:

  • The reality for developing countries is connectivity and affordability, and the issues discussed at Consumers International need to be translated into a developing country context.
  • The consumer voice should be heard in standards development.

PROTESTE noted that:

  • Data is the new currency and we need to re-evaluate how consumers think and feel about this reality.
  • Civil society needs to talk to all market players including companies. We can change the dialogue – consumers do not need to be the weakest market players because no service can be developed without their data.
  • Regulation is very important but it is not enough anymore. Top down regulations will not keep up with technology innovation.

EVOCCO commented that the elephant in the room is that to be sustainable we need to have less consumption. Sustainability isn’t a choice – it is the new context, underlying theme in every consumer decision we make.

Mozilla stated that the real urgency should be for consumer organisations to address the gap between people’s concerns and people’s actions. Consumers are concerned about products’ trustworthiness but keep buying. Something needs to shift in that paradigm. Lastly, Mozilla called for everyone to reimagine this paradigm and start thinking about the role of women when it comes to the internet – also as the major household purchasers, what if we made them the primary audience for everything that we do?

And that’s a wrap! Another jam-packed day of debate again today and lasting messages for all to go home and start taking action. The gap between Australia’s policy framework and the developments internationally has never been quite so stark to us as it is right now.

We’re so grateful to have met and heard from a clever, diverse and passionate group of consumer & policy experts from around the world. We hope you’ve enjoyed the updates and we can’t wait to get home to put these learnings into action and work towards a better digital world for Australian consumers!

Lauren and Brigid


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