Consumer protection in the digital age

LKI President and convenor Atty. Victorio Mario Dimagiba

Last September 14, as President of Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI), I attended a webinar  on “ASEAN’s Priorities in Strengthening Consumer Protection in the Digital Age.”  This project led by Mr. Looi Teck Kheong who is the Assistant Director/Head Competition, Consumer Protection, and Intellectual Property Division of the ASEAN Secretariat.

This online conference had  the theme “How Can Digital Self-Determination and Access to Justice Be Guaranteed?” There were many key takeaways and highlights that I wish to share with my readers here.

This undertaking is based on the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, whose ultimate goal is to establish a common ASEAN consumer protection framework through higher levels of consumer protection legislation, improve enforcement and monitoring of consumer protection legislation, and make available redress mechanisms, including alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. AEC also wishes to promote a higher level of consumer empowerment and knowledge by addressing consumer concerns and by enhancing consumer knowledge and advocacy.

AEC‘s target is to build higher consumer confidence and cross-border commercial transactions by strengthening product safety enforcement, stronger participation of consumer representatives, and promotion of sustainable consumption.  Its other mission is to encourage consumer-related matters in ASEAN policies through impact assessment of consumer protection policies and development of knowledge-based policies. Finally,   included in this plan is the aspiration to promote consumer protection measures in products and services sectors such as finance, E-commerce, air transport, energy, and telecommunications.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Consumer Affairs Program (CAP) shared information on approaches to consumer protection to ASEAN Consumer Protection Agencies. Assistance was also provided in a form of various bilateral activities as well as information sharing of ACCCs experience through Online Digests, Video Streams, Blogs, Case Studies and Interactive Webinar.

In Mr. Kheong’s report, there are  multiple challenges to the ASEAN digital economy such as:

  1. There is still the challenge of merchants taking advantage of consumer through unfair contracts or false product information. Such practices would cause financial loss or time delay for consumers. An example of such practice is using consumer data for business gains.
  •  There is the problem of limited or non-existing data protection policies. As a result, it is unclear how companies should safeguard user information and database. As a result, there would be little or no effort for companies to secure and protect consumer data.
  • A third challenge is misleading and deceptive marketing and business practices conducted online by malicious individuals or companies. Frauds and scams are constantly evolving, utilizing technologies that make them harder sometimes impossible to detect and enforce.
  • As E-commerce increases, the need to establish effective national and cross-border disputes also grows in importance. Current ACCP efforts include the Online Dispute Resolution Guidelines, the ASEAN Consumer Complaints System and the ASEAN Guidelines on Cross-border B2C Dispute Resolution. Consumers are vulnerable to online scams and fraud. Methods of online crime are constantly evolving. Current ACCP efforts include the E-learning Modules. The ever-increasing E-commerce disputes would stretch the capacity of consumer protection agencies to the limit.

Laban Konsyumer Inc. will continue to be cognizant of all these concerns and will continue to advocate for and participate in consumer protection activities. These points apply for our country, and even as we are still recovering from the pandemic, it is important to put up the safeguards and protection for the consumers, especially now that the digital age is upon us and online business is booming.

 Our active role in consumer protection has received recognition in the ongoing Asean Peer review report of the Philippines’  consumer protection policy, law and practices. The regional   expert (Dr. Sathita of Thailand) stated that consumer organizations (LKI) work closely with the consumers.  She further said that we can help reflect the important consumer issues to related governmental enforcement agencies and complement the advocacy of the responsible agencies.

Unfortunately however, our policy makers and regulators still have to get their acts together. While consumers  are keenly waiting   for the Internet Transaction Act or  the law on  digital trade consumer protection ,  the regulators are crafting a “ Joint Administrative  Order  ( JAO)” on e- commerce  reiterating  provisions of existing  laws on consumer protection, digital trade, cybercrime and digital privacy . The JAO is an unnecessary overlap, creates confusion in enforcement and   counter-productive. There is nothing new in the draft Joint Administrative Order that enhances consumer protection and it is best to drop and forget the issuance of the Joint Administrative Order.

Atty. Vic Dimagiba

President, Laban Konsyumer Inc.

Email at [email protected]