/ Technology

Is a Bill of Rights needed to protect us online?

Shaking hands

Life on the internet isn’t as simple as it could be – companies are increasingly looking to monetise our personal data. This has led one MP to propose an Internet Bill of Rights to protect our civil liberties online.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s been left up to campaigning organisations like Privacy International, Big Brother Watch and Which? to protect our online privacy. But that’s not quite the case.

Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, has been banging the drum on this issue for a while now. In fact, he’s been calling for the introduction of an Internet Bill of Rights – new legislation aimed at putting the rights of consumers like you and me above the interests of commercial businesses.

Halfon believes that a new legal framework needs to be established to give consumers more power to deal with internet giants. Existing regulation via the Information Commissioner’s Office, he argues, is insufficient to deal with the gradual infringement of our civil liberties online.

Advertising firms in the firing line

He’s got his sights firmly focused on the WPP Group, a British advertising and marketing firm which claims to have individual profiles of half a billion internet users from across the world, including allegedly almost 100 per cent of the UK population.

Although WPP claims all of this information is anonymous, Halfon thinks our privacy is being gradually eroded by companies tracking our every move online and selling on this personal data for commercial gain.

Halfon has managed to gather support from 13 MPs – not a huge number out of the 600 or so that take up space in Parliament, but it’s a start.

Anyway, what do you think? Is Robert right? Is new legislation, like an Internet Bill of Rights, the right way to protect consumers online, or should we just stick with what we’ve got, amending it as and when needed?

Tom says:
18 July 2011

The problem is that there is a huge gap between the public’s understanding of the Internet and that of businesses who have naturally sought to use the power of this channel to better understand their markets and grow their businesses. New data analysis tools are seen by consumers as an infringement of civil liberties but fewer are aware if how they also enrich their lives with relevant content and better user experiences as are they are not aware of them even taking place. I agree that users should ultimately be responsible for what businesses know about them but as with the recent directlive on cookies, a blanket decision made on behalf of consumers who might not know the significance of this decision is not the answer. More education and cooperation is needed before decisions before bills get passed without any of us knowing how that affects us.

Mark says:
18 July 2011

What we really need is clarification on the rights consumers have to “own” copyrighted digital goods (i.e., software), especially when it comes to cloud storage and so-called digital lockers for media. Many companies advertise that you’re “buying” software tied to their online service, but what you’re actually buying is a licence to use said software. If you are unhappy with the product, are you legally entitled to the same refund as if you bought it from a store? The law isn’t clear enough here, and seems that as companies are redefining their products as SaaS (software as a service), consumer rights are being circumvented.

pickle says:
19 July 2011

The snag of a ‘bill of rights’ on the internet is that the internet is world wide. Unless all countrie subscribe to it the foreign companies will just carry on as before.

I sent a complaint to the ASA regarding a particular web site that was extremely misleading and indeed fraudulent. I pointed out that similar web sites (all presenting with the same material – how can 20 builders all build the same project – in another land?) used the same pictures and were from the same web design company. There was no doubt that the material was false and used to mislead the public. The company concerned made itself out to be the leading builders and joiners company in the Glasgow area and supplied a host of trades. In reality the company has one employee, a turnover of less than the VAT limit and operates out of the owner’s home.
The ASA are not interested. This sends a clear message – fraudulent advertising on the web is OK. OK until the public get a replacement for the ASA. How can that be done and the public given a proper service?

Advertising on websites comes under the remit of ASA only if it is on the companies’ websites. If this is the case I suggest you submit a complaint, Edward. If that does not work you could request an internal review.

Can you please let us know why the ASA declined to take action, assuming you were given a reason. From what you have said, it seems a deliberate and not very clever attempt at misrepresentation.

Most of the internet is funded by advertising, so we should be careful what we wish for.

Also, I think we should regard most of the internet’s content as “media” not verified truth.

Hence, just as we can find fake news all over conventional printed media, so too that crops up all over the internet.

This comment was removed at the request of the user