“Who has spent $1,500 on a new cell phone, only to return it the next day after being uncomfortable with the terms and conditions”
‘I have read the terms and conditions’…
This declaration has been made dozens of times by the 4.5 billion people connected to the internet. I myself have never read the 50-100 pages of size 6 font that these terms and conditions are usually written in.
Is it because I trust the company? No. It's because the need of the service or device, outweighs the time it would take to read and understand the legal jargon it's written in.
For decades, it has widely been acceptable for companies to obscure their intentions in this way. The declaration itself is often used as an authority to gather and do as they please with your information, with limited to no liability falling on them.
In recent years though, consumers and companies are waking up to privacy and governments are stepping up with policy designed to put the power back in the consumers hands.
Over 80 countries have now adopted comprehensive data protection laws. The European Union has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in force since 2018, with the primary aim to give individuals control over their personal data.
In New Zealand, the Privacy Act controls how New Zealand agencies collect, use, disclose, store and give access to personal information.
However, these policies tend to overlook a common cause of consumer privacy issues.
Take a step back…
As a consumer, do you really know what you're signing up for when you buy that new cell phone at your local shopping centre?
Who has spent $1,500 on a new cell phone, only to return it the next day after being uncomfortable with the terms and conditions you were asked to agree to on set up?
Short answer: No-one.
So how can we empower the consumer to make privacy a consideration when making a purchase? By giving the consumer the information prior to purchase, and in a format that is simple and easily digestible.
How can companies use ‘privacy by default’ as a marketing tool for selling their products or services? By using a calculator designed to highlight privacy concerns, that will rate their products or services against the competition.
If any of this is starting to sound familiar, then you are probably the person in your household that goes to the supermarket to buy healthier food options. You may also be the sort of person that spends more on energy efficient appliances.
How are you empowered to make these decisions? You probably saw the front-of-pack labelling systems used by the food and whiteware industries.
Let’s make a change!
Health Star Ratings have been adopted in New Zealand and Australia since 2014 and provide a quick easy way for shoppers to choose healthier packaged foods.
Energy Rating Labels have been in use since 2002 and provide consumers with information that help them save money long term and reduce their environmental impact.
Both of these systems were implemented to solve large scale sociological problems; child obesity and conservation of energy.
You may be wondering if these labelling systems actually help a consumer make better choices.
When looking into the history of the Health Star Rating System, the Obesity Policy Coalition noted that the system is creating behaviour change and is increasingly being used by consumers to make healthier choices when shopping.
While the Health Star Rating System is deemed effective overall, it was noted that mandatory labelling and a refined rating algorithm can play an important role in furthering the positive impact.
Prior to these labelling systems, the obesity problem shared an uncanny similarity with the privacy concerns of today; obscure technical information, often hidden in small font on the back of packaging.
Will adoption of a front-of-pack privacy labelling system help consumers understand the technology they purchase, the amount of personal information they need to provide, how that information is used and how much it invades their privacy?
The evidence suggests it would. Consumers would make privacy conscious decisions when purchasing technology, and manufacturers would be driven to make privacy a marketable feature.
Could we extend this to online services like Facebook or eBay? Websites like this are in the data business and typically hold more personal data than ever before - a privacy rating on their sign-up page is certainly appropriate.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to improve consumer privacy - we could simply borrow one from the tried and tested vehicles in the food and whiteware industries.