Ministry of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development

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Each year consumer organisations around the world have joined together on March 15 to commemorate World Consumer Rights Day, a day that plays a vital role in raising awareness of consumer rights around the globe.

Today, Barbados joins with the international community in celebrating yet another World Consumer Rights Day and as Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, I welcome the opportunity to address you on this day of international celebration.

This year’s theme is “Building a digital world consumers can trust” which focuses on the areas, access and choice, online redress, clear and informed choices and online security. Therefore we will be looking at how we can strengthen consumer protection and increase access to the digital economy in order for everyone to benefit from the digital technology. Action in these four key digital areas would bring enormous benefits to the consumers. 

Digital technology is having a dramatic impact on consumers around the world, creating many new benefits including better communication, access to information and greater choice and convenience. Whilst consumers undoubtedly benefit from these technologies, there are questions about how to establish safe access to the internet for the many consumers who are not connected, how to improve the quality of services, which online services consumers can trust, what happens to the data they share online and what consumers’ rights are in relation to digital products.

Well over three billion, or forty per cent of the world’s population is online now, compared with just one per cent in 1995, with all projections suggesting that this number will continue to rise. Although this still leaves many consumers who are struggling to access these technologies, the rapid growth of the internet, mobile phones and digital -technologies has created opportunities and challenges for millions of consumers around the world.  

Increasingly in international markets, consumers face a number of challenges which, without action, could undermine confidence and trust. With an explosion in the use of smart devices and with online services becoming omnipresent, an unprecedented level of personal information about consumers and their habits, preferences and households are available digitally to businesses and their partners.

As people share their personal data with their service providers, digital trust becomes extremely critical, especially for communications, media and technology companies.

The application of digital technology is not without challenges. Some concerns are raised relative to privacy and security, a lack of legislation to protect individuals’ privacy in cyber space and sharing of information with a third party. There is no doubt that digital technology is a beneficial and crucial element in the development of a nation’s economy. However, the users of the technology must feel confident that they are protected from abuse and fraud and that their privacy is protected.

Both businesses and consumers have a strong interest in supporting effective consumer protection that builds trust and confidence, and supports the growth of sustainable, consumer oriented digital markets. In today’s digital world the consumer depends on access to reliable, affordable and safe communication networks.

The Electronic Transactions Act provides for electronic transactions and related matters. The Computer Misuse Act is very much in operation to protect computer systems and information stored therein from unauthorized access by persons.

The proposed Data Protection Act protects the privacy of the individual by regulating the collection, processing, storage and dissemination of personal data. This legislation should go a long way in making persons feel more comfortable when giving out personal information online to both Government and private sector organisations.

 

Government, aware that a legal structure and international framework to cooperate with other countries in combating cybercrime must be provided, is making an assessment of our environment with a view to having the appropriate framework in place. In order for the public to be more willing to conduct business online, they have to be confident that the information that they present is secure.

The general public is being alerted as to the precautionary measures they should take in conducting purchasing transactions over the INTERNET; what to look for in terms of authentic web sites, the need to ascertain the physical location of the vendor, the need to check the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), to look for the security padlock icon and why they should not divulge certain personal information especially to avoid identity theft.

 

Likewise, companies must also feel safe in the knowledge that their client’s information would be protected. Businesses and individuals must be certain that there is legal recognition to electronic records and that there is legal provision for the use of electronic signatures and restrictions in place regarding the disclosure of personal information.

 

On this note, let me state that whereas Government may be the champion or driver for building a digital world consumers can thrust, businesses and individuals have a significant role to play in the development of a safe and secure local information and communication technology industry.

 

As we join the world in celebrating the 34th Annual World Consumer Rights Day, we hope that businesses and consumers accept their responsibilities in making the use of telecommunication in this digital world more reliable, affordable and safe.

I thank you.