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10 principles, 5 years, 1 challenge: to achieve a European Digital Strategy that truly works for consumers

Major technological developments have significantly changed the way consumers live, shop, communicate, access employment offers, education, healthcare services, knowledge and information.

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Digital information technologies and the emergence of new services, although beneficial to consumers, also represent a major challenge to consumers’ fundamental rights to privacy and protection of personal data.
Digital information technologies and the emergence of new services, although beneficial to consumers, also represent a major challenge to consumers’ fundamental rights to privacy and protection of personal data.

Consumers are driving before drive innovation by developing and adapting applications more than ever.

Therefore, consumers should be central to the European Digital Strategy. At the same time, the Information society needs to be built in such a way as to ensure consumers remain in control. Consumers should have access to affordable, easy to use ICT products and services that respond to their expectations, satisfy their concerns and protect their privacy.

Access to telecommunication networks and services

The inclusion of broadband in the scope of the universal services Directive constitutes the precondition for the achievement of the objectives set out in Europe’s Digital Agenda and will be crucial in reducing the existing gap between digital natives and nons. Together with regional policy tools, it will ensure broadband coverage for all. In addition, the EU should seek to send a strong signal and already define clear goals on the use of high speed broadband, which would make a real difference for consumers. The EU needs to ensure high-speed broadband markets that remain competitive allowing for new technologies to be developed and for innovation to be promoted to the benefit of consumers.

The reason why the internet has been so successful is because it has allowed consumers, citizens, businesses and governments to be connected to new services, applications and content. Only by keeping the World Wide Web neutral will it be able to remain a driving force for innovation and delivering to consumers.

Need to safeguard consumers’ privacy and protection of personal data

Digital information technologies and the emergence of new services, although beneficial to consumers, also represent a major challenge to consumers’ fundamental rights to privacy and protection of personal data. More and more business models for the online distribution of content are based on the (ab)use of users’ data for profiling and marketing purposes, while national legislation in the field of IPR enforcement fails to safeguard consumers’ fundamental rights, namely the right to privacy and to the confidentiality of communications, presumption of innocence and due process.

It is important to provide consumers with a secure digital environment that they can trust, including an effective control of their personal data. Transparency of privacy notices needs to be improved. In addition, business models should embrace privacy and security-by-design, to be built into all digital products and services from the outset as this would foster consumer empowerment. New rights specific to the Digital Age should be introduced, such as “the right to be forgotten” that would allow consumers to delete and erase their digital tracks from the web and thus retain control over their personal data.

Need for a coherent EU copyright agenda

Copyright rules must evolve as the technologies that are used to create and distribute them evolve. With the new opportunities arising from the ways content is accessed and distributed, there is a need to rethink the European legal framework. Nevertheless, the EU policy agenda currently focuses exclusively on protection and enforcement. The adoption of stronger and longer copyright rules without proper assessment of the possible impact on consumers and the public interest, risks shifting the balance to the benefit of copyright owners.

Any discussion on the future shaping of the EU copyright framework needs to carefully balance the interests of the different stakeholders with the aim of fostering the development of innovative new business models for online distribution and the availability of online content across the EU for the benefit of the European consumers. The EU urgently needs to adopt a coherent and forward looking copyright agenda with the aim of adapting the current system of copyright exceptions and limitations to the digital world.

Enforcement and consumer redress

To ensure consumer digital rights exist in practice and are properly enforced, it is crucial to reinforce the role of enforcement bodies, including the European Commission, but also to provide consumers with the means to obtain redress when their rights have been infringed. The introduction of a binding instrument for collective judicial redress in Europe is a necessity for consumers, as it would enhance consumers’ access to justice and allow them to be compensated for the damages suffered, while also providing an incentive for companies to abide by the law.

* by Kostas Rossoglou, Legal Officer with BEUC, The European Consumers' Organisation

Further information on BEUC’s Digital Agenda can be found online at: http://docshare.beuc.org/docs/1/IEFJOLDAEEHLBNIFADDOHMFOPDWD9DBYBK9DW3571KM/BEUC/docs/DLS/2010-00204-01-E.pdf  

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