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Putting consumer trust at the heart of digital innovation

Putting consumer trust at the heart of digital innovation

Justin Macmullan, advocacy director at Consumers International and speaker at the Digitising Europe Summit, thinks that consumer trust is vital for a successful digital society. But no single organisation can build it alone - we need to work together.

Consumers’ enthusiasm for new digital products and services is central to the digital economy and has helped drive many of the innovations that are now an indispensable part of our lives.

Yet consumers’ enthusiasm for reliable, fast and convenient service is not always matched with trust that the provider has their best interests at heart. Headlines about data misuse, tech overuse and frustrations with getting problems redressed have fed consumers’ sense that something isn’t right. Yet without positive alternatives, there is little that consumers can do but continue using the products and services on offer.

Justin Macmullan is advocacy director at Consumers International in London. He spearheads the organisation’s advocacy efforts, including its digital change agenda and the management of its work on food safety and nutrition, sustainable consumption and consumer justice and protection. Prior to joining Consumers International in 2007, Macmullan worked for a UK development agency on international campaigns for the cancellation of developing countries’ debts, fairer international trade and action to tackle climate change (Photo: Consumers International)

Consumers International is to spot emerging issues and problems and work with others to find solutions, so that consumers can enjoy the benefits of new technology without having to compromise on issues such as data protection, security, quality service and information about their consumer rights.

The rapid growth in the market for the consumer Internet of Things (CIoT) is a good example. Smart TVs, watches and home devices are now widespread, but our members have highlighted how some of these products have come to market with very little data protection and security built in. This means that someone with even basic hacking skills has the potential to access other connected products in the house, listen in through the microphone or watch you through the camera. These personal safety aspects are particularly worrying in terms of connected products for children.

In addition to security worries, consumer IoT can also bring unwanted tracking, marketing and poor customer service, which all add up to a sense of consumer mistrust.

As a global membership body, we raised these issues with governments from around the world at the G20 Consumer Summit as well as through public awareness campaigns. But that’s only half the story — businesses must also do more to improve standards so that consumers have better choices.

To help businesses understand what a good consumer IoT looks like, Consumers International has worked with our members to develop principles and recommendations for securing consumer trust for the Internet of Things. We are now working together with forward-looking companies to implement these guidelines.

We will be discussing the future of IoT and more at the Consumers International Summit 2019, which will bring together consumer groups, business and government to explore these ideas and other new opportunities that enable consumers to enjoy the benefits of tech within a trusted and safe digital economy.

Consumers’ enthusiasm for new digital products and services is central to the digital economy (Photo: Vodafone)