UN Consumer Guidelines Could Be Updated For Digital Rights, A2K

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Jeremy Malcolm of Consumers International has posted to

“Over the last three years a global network of consumer activists has been crafting a set of amendments to an influential global instrument, the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, that could provide a powerful global standard for digital rights and access to knowledge.

Amongst the best practices for consumers that the amended Guidelines would enshrine are:

  • Ensuring that equivalent consumer protection mechanisms apply no matter whether products or services are delivered online or offline, and whether or not they are supplied in a digital format, so that for example the consumers of digital content products such as e-books are treated on a level footing to consumers of equivalent analogue products such as printed books.
  • Requiring that suppliers of such digital content products inform consumers of the effect of any applicable technical protection measures (sometimes called “digital locks”) or interoperability limitations that could impede the consumer from using them, and not allowing such technological mechanisms to unreasonably limit the ways in which consumers can use such products.
  • Prohibiting suppliers from using unnecessarily long and complex standard contractual terms of service to take away consumers’ rights, and ensuring that consumers maintain control over content that is hosted for them online, without sacrificing their privacy.

Last year, we scored a magnificent victory, when the United Nations body with responsibility for the Guidelines, UNCTAD, agreed to their review, and set a date – July 11 and 12 this year – at which to consider proposed amendments. Consumers International was specifically mentioned as one of the bodies whose recommendations would be considered.

But at the last moment, our efforts towards improving standards of protection for digital consumers and fighting against corporate practices that that abuse their rights, could all be for nothing.

Why? Because the UNCTAD secretariat has signalled that it only wants to see two areas of amendment dealt with in this round of amendments – financial services and e-commerce. Whilst both of those areas are important, there are many other areas like access to knowledge that we feel are just as important. With an average of 15 years between each revision of the Guidelines, we don’t want to have to wait that long again before we have another chance to bring the Guidelines properly up to date.”

[Note: UNCTAD is the UN Conference on Trade and Development, in Geneva]

The full post is available here.

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