Connected consumers: risk or opportunity?

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New technology and data-driven innovation create new business models and services that enable companies to help their customers by adjusting their products and become more relevant. At the same time, access to and analysis of data challenges the personal integrity and the view of how integrity should best be safeguarded. How shall development of new services and personalisation be balanced with demands of personal integrity? Do consumers have access to relevant information? And who is responsible for what?

Fredrick Federley, MEP from the liberal ALDE-group and chairman of SPN Brussels, Anna-Lena Bohm, Chair of BUSINESSEUROPE’s SME committee and CEO of Uniguide, William Echikson, Head of CEPS Digital Forum and Joanna Lopatowska, Adviser on Consumer Affairs at Eurocommerce

To discuss these highly topical issues, the Swedish Society for Business and Politics, SPN organised a seminar in Brussels. Among the panellists were Fredrick Federley, MEP from the liberal ALDE-group and chairman of SPN Brussels, Anna-Lena Bohm, Chair of BUSINESSEUROPE’s SME committee and CEO of Uniguide, William Echikson, Head of CEPS Digital Forum and Joanna Lopatowska, Adviser on Consumer Affairs at Eurocommerce

The presentations and discussions at the seminar circled around trust, privacy and consumer relations. Participants generally agreed that companies suffer from overregulation and a fragmented single market and thought it was important to find a better balance between security for consumers and the possibilities for companies to innovate, grow and compete in Europe and on international markets.

Fredrick Federley kicked off the discussion by giving some examples of how digitalisation affects the way people interact and do business and asked if policy is up to date. He also addressed the question if was if there was a need to create a European search engine.

-The question is not if we need a European Google or not. But if a European competitor to Google would emerge, then, if we don’t make sure we have a real single market, “this baby will never leave the cradle”, he said.

Anna Lena Bohm underlined in her intervention the need to ensure trust between companies and consumers.

- Individuals and companies alike are increasingly going online. Networks and cloud computing, whether it’s about online shopping, banking, contacts with authorities or advertising, is becoming part of the daily life of both consumers and businesses. This puts new demands on how data is handled. What consumers expect is security. Building trust is key. At the same time companies often find overregulation an issue. Also, the single market is still fragmented, where companies often face 28 different rules or standards on for instance labelling or VAT schemes for different services and products. We must not make artificial distinctions between the single market and the digital single market. What is important is to continue to tear down regulatory barriers on the single market and make sure rules are easy to understand an fit for SME:s, she said.

Joanna Lopatowska focused her intervention on consumer behaviour in the connected society.

- E-commerce has grown substantially in recent years. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour. Half of all consumers make their purchases on mobile devices. Social networks and search engines have taken over traditional advertising. Amazon has moved up as the most important search engine for products. Only 20% of consumers go directly to retailers’ websites. At the same time as consumers want personalised advertisement they don’t want feel they are tracked down by the internet giants. This implies a major challenge. As obligations on companies about privacy and transfer of personal data are increasing, building trust with consumers is essential. Consumer must feel they are secure, said Joanna Lopatowska.

William Echikson, agreed that overregulation and fragmentation of European markets was a problem. He thought that Europe should be more optimistic and focus more on opportunities, rather than consider innovation and new business models as disruptive.

- Consumers seem to value protection as more important than convenience. The recently adopted general data protection regulation, GDPR, has been followed by new legislation on E-privacy, which adds a new layer of complexity and contradictions. The approach of “regulation first” undermines the benefits of digitalisation and risk driving new innovative companies away from Europe. Fragmentation of markets is another problem. It stops companies in Europe from reaching their full potential. For instance, services like Skype and Netflix are hindered by 28 different national regulations on phone services and audiovisual content, he concluded.

The seminar was chaired by Fredrick Federley (c) chairman of SPN, and gathered about 40 participants from EU institutions, companies, business organisations and NGO:s.


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