Saturday, May 25, 2019

Lacson: Protection of online consumers


WITH the growing domination of social media and the internet in our lives, a lot of new trends and phenomena have been introduced. One of which is the growing world of online buying and selling, which now easily happens through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Unlike the other modes of online shopping using e-commerce portals such as Lazada, Shopee, and Alibaba, online consumers who transact using social media sites have less protection from fraudulent sellers. In the absence of a legislation which protects the rights of consumers, particularly online shoppers, people with deceitful minds continue to lurk around and delude innocent people who spend their hard-earned money on goods and services which they do not get in return.

In a review, customers say that Shopee has the edge over Lazada in terms of the security of purchases since shoppers have control when their payments will be processed and given to the merchants. In terms of the interface, Shopee also has a better lay-put and user-friendly tools and chatboxes which highly benefits the consumers. Shopee also has a better review in terms of returns of goods when clients are not satisfied with the delivered items.

Since a lot of people also engage in transactions with online sellers through social media sites, they do not enjoy this kind of protection. Now the question is, are there laws which protect the rights of online consumers?

In an advisory issued by the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime dated April 30, 2015, there are three applicable laws that may be used as a means to safeguard the interests of people who transact with online shopping either e-commerce portals or individual online sellers.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 sims to regulate the access to and use of the cyberspace and further provides that “all crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, if committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be covered by the relevant provisions of this Act: Provided, That the penalty to be imposed shall be one (1) degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be.”

Likewise, Republic Act No. 7394 or the Consumer Act of the Philippines states that “protection against deceptive, unfair, and conscionable sales acts and practices” as well as promotes the “promotes the provision of information and education to facilitate sound choice and the proper exercise of rights by the consumer.”

More so, the Electronic Act of 2000 or RA 8792 aims to facilitate the dealing, transactions, arrangements agreements, contracts and exchanges and storage of information through the utilization of electronic medium, extends the coverage of RA 7394 to transactions made with the use of electronic medium. At the same, the Data Privacy Act provides the protection of personal data and information of people when dealing with online sellers.

However, the next question is, are these laws enough to prevent and even track down serial online scammers who have mastered the art of getting away with their bogus deals and thus leaving trusting customers running after their money?

Sadly, the answer is a big NO. The fact of the matter is, at this time of my writing, my sister is outrageously in pursuit of an online seller via Twitter who did not deliver the items ordered after the money was already sent.

In fact, on the E-commerce page of the Department of Trade and Industry, it is written there that “the private sector notes that there is a need for the DTI to issue new policies adjusting to trends happening online. This includes online sales permit approvals where its current 30-day rule may be too long. In addition, there is a need for this service to start accepting applications online.”

Furthermore, the need for an “online dispute resolution process” is now a pressing need for the scammed consumers as they need to personally appear in any DTI office. Knowing that buyers and sellers do not usually come from one place, this process is indeed difficult to implement, hence the requisite for an online mode of action center attending to these kinds of concerns.

On 20 October 2008, the DTI, Department of Health, and Department of Agriculture enacted a joint memorandum circular on consumer protection for e-commerce transactions. (DTI-DOH-DA Joint Administrative Order (AO) No. 1 - “Rules and Regulations for Consumer Protection in a Transaction Covered by the Consumer Act of the Philippines (R.A. 7394) through Electronic Means under the E-commerce Act (R.A. 8792)” or the E-Consumer Protection Guidelines). Part of the guidelines include mandating minimum requirements that e-commerce sites must comply with, e.g., privacy policy, information about retailer, seller, distributor, products and services, and consumer transaction, including the setting-up of a help desk to internally resolve consumer complaints.

But still, this is not enough to address the growing number of online fraud and scams that netizens experience. It is really imperative for the DTI to amend the Consumer Act of the Philippines that will include e-commerce-related provisions. Online sellers need to undergo the same business application process that ordinary business establishments undergo. This is the only way we can safeguard the rights of the Filipino consumers in this age of digitalization.


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