It is fundamental that all individuals understand their rights as consumers of products and services.
Consumer education can be twofold: awareness of those rights as a consumer; and the application of those rights and responsibilities if products and services exploit and/or infringe the rights of others.
The internet can be used as a tool to help digital citizens understand their choices as consumers in today’s society, and also as a medium to help digital citizens reclaim their rights. Some consumer education campaigns have successfully used media for wider audiences and today the internet can push and promote awareness at a fast global pace.
With new technology allowing consumers to make purchases with facial recognition or via embedded chips or e-tattoos, consumers must continue their vigilance.
More than 60% of Europeans access the internet on a daily basis and more than two thirds of internet users have made purchases online.1 The European Commission has provided information to inform individuals (and businesses) about buying goods and services online.
Another aspect of consumer awareness, or perhaps more correctly termed the flip-side of consumer awareness, is entrepreneurship. Digital citizens are also acting as entrepreneurs, actively selling products and services to digital citizen consumers.
These online entrepreneurs are using social media to market their goods, online platforms to host their goods, digital delivery systems to ship their goods and more. Online entrepreneurs are now more than ever concerned with the rights and responsibilities of their users/clients/followers, as they engage in this digital economy newly regulated by the General Data Protection Regulation.
1. E-commerce statistics for individuals. Eurostat
How does it work?
Being a digital citizen may often mean being a consumer, without active knowledge of what this really means. Empowering digital consumers means providing a framework of principles and tools that allow them to drive a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. Consumer education on those principles and tools is at the forefront of successful awareness and participation in the economy, digital or otherwise.
E-commerce has undoubtedly brought positive benefits, as shopping becomes easier and more convenient; however, e-commerce transactions are not without risks. Recent trends show that more and more children make online purchases (often via a parent’s credit card account) before attaining the age of 18 or even holding a part-time job appropriate for a student. Video games and other online amusements for children often use concepts of money to mean value in the game. Children may not always understand the true value of money, as parents can attest when seeing the in-app purchases. The concern of children “virtualising” money may have an economic impact for their future.
When making a purchase and before giving out private data, check for the locked padlock symbol that shows up in the toolbar. This is a sign that your transaction is taking place over a secure connection. Before making online transactions, check that the URL includes “https”; the “s” stands for “secure” in the Hypertext Transfer Protocol and authenticates the website and the associated web, which protects against man-in-the-middle attacks.
Personal development/Educational Value/Citizenship value
Digital citizens who are skilled in consumer education are able to embrace a sustainable concept of consumption that focuses on well-being and security. The rise of the “consumer citizen” cannot be neglected as individuals make choices based on ethical, social, economic or ecological beliefs. The Norway University of Applied Sciences has developed Guidelines for Consumer Citizenship Education.
Consumer citizenship began as a Canadian concept and it is quickly gaining ground as globalisation creates opportunities and risks, both offline and online.
Education for sustainable consumption has basic learning outcomes that can be used in parallel for digital citizens with the Council of Europe butterfly model; values, attitudes, knowledge and critical understanding. This can lead to:
- critical awareness
- ecological responsibility
- social responsibility
- action and involvement
- global solidarity.
Consumer awareness, including online entrepreneurship, regarding all aspects of the product or service can increase consumer confidence, as consumers are able to make choices that are reflective of that knowledge.
Figure 18: Consumer awareness – Core digital citizenship competences
Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?