In today’s digital age, individuals often either knowingly or unknowingly provide their personal information to companies in exchange for the use of cheap or free services on the Internet. The most prominent examples are social media or online retail platforms, whereby users upload their personal details, photographs, credit card information and/or geographic location to these platforms for the purposes of connecting and sharing their lives and experiences to a greater audience.
Consequently, companies operating such platforms hold a trove of personal information on its own consumers. However, the commentary suggests that by consenting to the collection and usage of personal information, consumers are often unaware as to how their personal information are being collected or used. The commentary highlights that even if an ordinary consumer takes the time and effort to comb through the privacy agreements offered by companies, these agreements are largely incomprehensible.
Despite the legislative attempts by countries and international communities to regulate the collection and usage of personal information, the commentary argues that these efforts to ensure that privacy agreements are more comprehensible to the general public have largely been futile. To support its argument, the commentary cites research undertaken examining the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation passed by the European Union (EU) to force companies to implement strict control standards regarding the use and collection of personal data of EU nationals. It was discovered that privacy agreements post-GDPR are no less comprehensible than pre-GDPR and therefore legislative efforts alone to govern data use and collection do not suffice.
Read the full article on Channel NewsAsia: Commentary: If only privacy agreements were readable. Most aren’t
Traditionally, regulation lags behind innovation and technology. This is logical as it is nearly impossible for regulators to pre-empt inventions or innovations that have not been created or developed. Yet the gap between regulations and technology may be exponentially widened due to a myriad of reasons: (i) failure to understand new developments; (ii) failure to build a consensus between all stakeholders as to how these developments should be governed or regulated; (iii) a slow bureaucratic system in passing regulations to govern these developments. This is compounded within the digital space where technological innovators seek to push boundaries in their bid to introduce new offerings to capture the attention and the wallets of its consumers.
However, as the commentary alluded to above, companies should not operate without any form of guidance or regulation. When seeking for their consumers to consent to its service aad privacy agreements during the provision of their services, these agreements are often complex, onerous, filled with legal jargon and references which consumers would not be able to comprehend. Furthermore, unlike a consumer, companies have large financial resources and legal teams to ensure that the agreements it requests a consumer to sign is in the companies’ favour and protects its interests holistically. Therefore, regulations should be introduced to protect consumers’ interests and privacy rights within the digital space.
Nevertheless, the introduction of regulation and guidance may not always lead to favorable results benefiting consumers. In some instances, an overreach of regulations not only curtails innovation but leads to the loss of convenience that these technologies have initially brought. A prime example is the strict restrictions introduced by China to curtail the use of ridesharing platforms.
Therefore, a balance is to be struck where regulators communicate and collaborate with all stakeholders involved to ensure that consumers’ continue to reap the benefits of the technological innovation while protecting an individual’s right to privacy.
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- Do you agree that governments and legislators bear the sole responsibility in regulating the online space?
- Is there value for contracts and agreements to be drafted transparently so that consumers are able to fully comprehend the documents they are signing?
- ‘trove’: Discovery or a valuable collection
- ‘jargon’: special words and phrases that are used by particular groups of people, especially in their work