“Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer” is the theme of this year’s World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), which is celebrated on March 15 every year. The Consumer Council, in active support of the theme advocated by the Consumers International, calls upon consumers to be wary of online scams and related issues, and to take action towards greater online protection awareness.
With the phenomenal rise in the internet in recent years, the percentage of the world’s population with access to the internet has drastically grown from 1% in 1995, to almost 50% in 2017. The pervasive popularity of smartphones has even driven our modern life towards digitalisation. Users of smartphones have surged globally from 10% in 2011 to an estimated 36% this year; in Hong Kong the penetration rate is even close to 90%. Consumers can now at their fingertips access the internet to meet their various daily necessities in food and lodging, clothing and transportation.
The internet has brought us unprecedented convenience but along with it came also a range of issues the world is having to face. The focus in this year’s WCRD campaign will centre on 3 major areas: fairer and safe internet services; dealing with online fraud and scams; enhancing online consumer protection.
These are mutual areas of concern which the world – and Hong Kong – must face together. The Council’s consumer complaints in relation to online purchase last year jumped nearly 23% to nearly 4,000 cases involving mainly online sale practices, suspected spurious goods, alteration/termination of contracts, etc. The accelerated rise in consumer dissatisfaction is clearly an issue of deep concern.
To this end, the Council will closely monitor the growing trend in online fraud and scams, and through its CHOICE monthly publications, issue reports on online security and safeguards with the object of educating the consumers in self-empowerment. In this (March) issue of CHOICE, for instance, the Council conducted, for the first time, a comparison of the various apps for e-hailing taxi services with particular concern over the excessive collection of consumer data by the apps developers. In the consumer complaints column were also highlighted 3 online purchase complaints drawing attention to the rising complaints relating to “Pay on Delivery” sales promotion tactic.
As the growth of e-wallet payment and logistics and transportation infrastructure becomes increasingly mature, it is anticipated that e-commerce will continue its expansion in ever faster speed. Through its functions in education, complaints resolution and advocacy for consumer legislation, the Council will strive for increased consumer protection in the fast changing digital marketplace.
The Council is convinced that only through a combination of efforts in concert – in raising consumer awareness for self-protection, promoting voluntary codes of practice by the traders, and strengthening law enforcement by the Government as well as suitably introducing new legislation in keeping with the changing times – could we create a sound sustainable online environment for the betterment of the consumers.