The digital services juggernaut

05 May 2014

It would appear that our brave new digital world is catching many individuals and enterprises off guard. Whilst the bulk of discussion is around needing to become an agile digital player simply to survive, little thought has gone into the repercussions in doing so without investigating the risks diligently.

Doing business on the internet is radically different to doing business in the flesh, so to speak. The old ‘trust’ factors of shaking hands, looking eye to eye, watching the body language and even a physical signature are no longer at your disposal. So how can you even start to mitigate risk?

After months of negative press about unfettered government snooping, smart grid security flaws, malicious website attacks and the Heartbleed bug it would be understandable that everyone doing anything on the web would be extra cautious. But has the internet become so ubiquitous that we simply accept the fact that we use it at our own risk, regardless of the potential consequences?

Even the lawmakers are being caught out and enterprises are starting to make up their own rules for people that want to do business with them online. Bad luck if you don’t agree with their terms and conditions, they are sticking with them in the hope that they have a leg to stand on in court if an irate customer tries to sue them. And it’s all because the old laws are simply not keeping up.

The New York Timesreported last week that “General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, ‘join’ it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

“Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.” General Mills has since backtracked according to a new report on Mashable.

But does anyone actually read all those terms and conditions when they do anything online. I have previously highlighted the dangers of downloading and installing any number of free apps to mobile devices that gives them total access to information and data you think is secure.

Even as some enterprises attempt to protect themselves with words, others simply avoid any contact with customers and make it extremely difficult for customers to even contact them. Try finding a phone number to call on your favorite app store, for example.

Even if you think you are being hard done by, you had better think twice about airing your grievances via blogs or social media. Recent landmark decisions in courts in Australia and the USA. may expose you to the full wrath of existing, if archaic, laws on defamation and libel.

What remedy then? Switching off from the digital world may not be that easy and doing everything in your power to reduce risks online is no guarantee you will be safe. Who could you turn to for help if you wanted to remain anonymous on the web or operate under any number of personas presuming it is even legal to do so? And could you even trust them?

One wonders if all the negativity around internet security and privacy will have any impact on the digital services juggernaut we have created. Probably not, but there could be quite a few stragglers squashed by it.

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