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Consumer protection laws need an overhaul for the digital age: CPRC

Consumer protection laws need a radical overhaul in order to keep step with the digitisation of retail, a new report by the Consumer Policy Research Centre has found.

According to the CPRC, laws and regulations made decades ago are struggling to keep up with the breadth of options now available to shoppers, and the rapid shift to online shopping throughout the pandemic has simply exacerbated the problem.

While digital marketplaces and online storefronts now offer consumers greater choice, speed and access to experiences not possible before, they also have little control over how personal information is collected and used, and have fewer options for redress when issues arise.

“The online consumer experience is often curated with dark patterns, including algorithms and bundled consent,” said CPRC chief executive Lauren Solomon.

“94 per cent of people [surveyed] are uncomfortable with how their personal information is collected and shared online, and the same proportion of people surveyed want the Government to protect them against the collection and sharing of their information.”

In the report, the Centre calls for reforms targeting the ability of terms and conditions to hide unfair practices and concealment of data practices, the establishment of a General Safety Provision to put responsibility for product safety onto traders, redefining ‘supply’ in Australian Consumer Law to take into account complex online supply chains, a more effective dispute resolution system, and an overhaul of the Privacy Act to adequately protect, inform and empower consumers on the use of their data.

“Household consumption constitutes approximately 60 per cent of gross domestic product. It’s in the national interest to ensure the right policy settings are in place for this significant component of Australia’s economic activity,” Solomon said.

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