World Consumer Rights Day – Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer

Digital Marketplaces Should be Fairer…

“Customers/consumers are always right!” goes the centuries old apophthegm. But really, are they always right? The Founder and CEO of Audience Bloom, a Seattle-based content marketing firm, Mr Jayson DeMers disagrees. And guess what? He is not the only one! Alexander Kjerulf of Huffpost argues that this phrase should be abandoned once and for all, as ironically, it leads to worse customer service.

Whether you believe customers/consumers are always right or not is one argument; the other is whether consumers DO have rights or if they are just an important tool towards financial gain or achieving an organization’s goal.

The rights of consumers differ according to the locality and the type of industry an organization or business operates in. While the consumers in a fashion industry demand adequate instructions or warnings about potential hazards caused by goods; for the media and an information/technology industry, the rights of consumers in a digital marketplace include access to knowledge, freedom of legitimate expression, adequate protection of the right to privacy and data protection and the absence of arbitrary blocking or filtering of online content. These rights are sometimes known as ‘digital rights’.

In a digital economy (or in a country moving towards digitalization like Nigeria), consumer rights are central to a fair and equitable economy that delivers social and economic benefits to all. By opening up opportunities for individuals, communities and national economies alike, digital products and services have the potential to bring a wide range of benefits to countries. For instance, in Kenya, the M-Pesa mobile payment service has reportedly helped to lift 2% of households out of poverty. More so, increased access to internet services provides consumers with a greater choice of product and access to redress, previously denied to consumers in many parts of the world.

These benefits are not limited to the private sphere but are replicated in the work of non-governmental organizations. In Nigeria, civic participation has been bolstered by the Every Vote Counts (EVC) app which allows users to report incidents such as electoral fraud at polling booths and upload pictures as evidence. The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, founded in 2014 has also developed civic technology platforms which aim to advance fundamental human rights, good governance and accountability in West Africa.

DUBAWA is one of such of platforms which deals with the consumer issue of fake or misleading business and political information by providing factual information that can be relied upon for decision making. Other initiatives include the health tracker which provides regularly updated information on the services, personnel, sanitary conditions and general satisfaction derived in using Primary Health Care Centres in Nigeria; as well as UDEME, a leading-edge initiative focused on  tracking Nigeria’s public procurement and budget implementation practices.

As with most media-related NGOs, PTCIJ’s initiatives are consumer-centric, focusing on improving access to information for its consumers (the general public). Yet and despite these initiatives, Africa as a continent still rates the lowest as regards access and inclusion of consumers to internet services. Consumer mistrust of online platforms means less access to information and even when mistrust is eliminated, high costs can pose almost equally high barriers to use.

In commemoration of the World Consumer Rights Day, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism joins Consumers International in demanding national and international support in ensuring access to online information for marginalised or disadvantaged groups of consumers and those in remote or ‘expensive to connect’ geographical areas, and to protest against market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights.