Wednesday, 15 March 2017

World Consumer Rights Day 2017

Today is World Consumer Rights Day, a day recognised by Consumers International (with whom we have no connection) every year. CI says that the day is “an opportunity to promote the basic rights of all consumers, demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights”.

This year’s theme is “Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust” which is clearly something enormously important. That’s why we’ve been talking about it for years.

The fact that you’re reading this on a computer, tablet or a phone is an indication of how far we’ve come even since we formed Consumer Watchdog. When we started we were on one radio station and in just one newspaper but 13 years later we’ve expanded to two radio stations and two newspaper columns. We’ve published well over 1,000 newspaper articles containing over a million words but more importantly we also have a blog with over 1,500 posts that’s been visited over a million times and a Facebook group with over 61,000 members.

Things have obviously changed. And let’s be clear, that’s been a great thing. The internet and its products, things like web pages, Google, blogs, Skype, Twitter and Facebook have changed almost everything we do. For the better. We have immeasurably greater access to news, information and opinions and our lives and relationships are better informed and richer as a result.

But it’s not all good. Some of that news, some that information, some of those opinions are wrong. Others are misguided. A few are abusive, despicable and disgusting. Many of them are there solely to deceive you and steal your money. We’re truly in the world of “alternative facts” and that’s beginning to have an impact on everyone’s life.

Many experts have observed that there have been no new ideas in business since Henry Ford invented the production line in 1913. That’s true even now, despite everything the cyber-revolution has offered us. Emails are just modern letters, Instagram is just a photo album, Skype is just a phone, Twitter is today’s telegram and Facebook, well, Facebook is just a bar on a Friday night.

Even the lessons you need to know about the new inter-connected world are the same as the lessons our grandparents had to learn without the internet:
  • Don’t trust strangers, particularly if they offer you money, a business “opportunity” or love.
  • Things that seem too good to be true ARE too good to be true.
  • Miracle cures are not cures at all.
  • The only way to become physically healthier or slimmer is to eat better and exercise more.
  • If you want commitment, sign a written agreement.
  • If you can’t commit to an agreement, don’t sign it.
  • Never sign an agreement you haven’t read or don’t understand.
  • Don’t trust a communication channel that isn’t secure.
  • Degrees from web sites that want money and demand no exams or coursework aren't real degrees.
  • Do the maths before deciding anything. I mean anything.

Ok, I’ll admit there are a few things you need to know that are specific to the modern age. Firstly, never enter any personal details, including your debit or credit card details, onto a web site that doesn’t start with “https” or that doesn’t have a padlock symbol in the address bar at the top. Secondly, never do any confidential transactions when connected to an open network like in a bar, restaurant or public place, even if there IS a padlock or “https”. Never click on a link in an email unless you would trust the person who sent it with your wallet or purse. That includes your bank.

Finally, the simplest of all. NEVER, under any circumstances, disclose your ATM card PIN to anyone and cover your hand EVERY time you enter it at the ATM or in a store. It’s not rude to do this, the cashier or person next in the queue will respect your good judgment and caution. They might even copy you.

The other thing that’s important is to spread this advice as far and as widely as possible. Pass on this advice to your friends, relatives, neighbours and co-workers. In particular, make sure you tell anyone who isn’t as technologically sophisticated as you about these basic rules. And then be the good friend who is skeptical when they’re told about miracle investment schemes, health products that cure every disease known to medicine and absolutely any business that encourages your friend to recruit multiple levels of people beneath you. Give them the guidance they need.

In short, be skeptical. Be a critical thinker. Question everything you hear and that someone seemingly impressive tells you. Don’t take anything at face value, and ask this question of anyone who wants you to join any scheme. “How do YOU benefit from ME joining?”

There’s one final thing you should know.

Consumer Watchdog is free to the consumers of Botswana. It always has been, it is now and it always will be.

Go now and enjoy your technology, whether it’s your cellphone, tablet or laptop. Explore the wonders that the internet offers you and learn as much as possible. Just don’t believe everything you see there. Trust nobody until you have an extraordinarily good reason to do so. And even then be a skeptic.

Safe surfing!

P.S. Remember that our theme this year is health and that's going to include a lot of cyber-health discussion. Be prepared to learn along with us!

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