There can be no doubt that we as consumers have become reliant on smart products in various forms – from smartphones to wearable fitness trackers, voice-activated assistants, smart TVs and even smart home technology. The fundamental idea behind smart products (also considered to be consumer products) is that they are interactive and also require some cognitive work by the user or consumer. In that sense we as consumers have a right to be informed, but also have a responsibility to make sure we understand what our rights and obligations are regarding the use of smart products. But where do we start?
The Consumer Protection Act (68/2008) provides the consumer with consumer rights such as the right to choose; disclosure and information; fair and responsible marketing; and fair and honest dealing. With regard to smart products (including online products), we must also take the provisions of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (25/2002) and the Protection of Personal Information Act (3/2014, also known as POPIA) into account. Due to South African businesses doing dealings in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, there is also an attempt to align our consumer protection law with international law and foreign law. In this regard The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, EU, 2016/679) became effective on 25 May 2018. Similar to the POPIA in South Africa, the GDPR makes organisations accountable for personal data protection. Many South African suppliers supply goods and services or process EU citizens’ personal data, and as such the GDPR would also apply to such businesses.
Consumers must make sure they understand the type of smart product they are purchasing and must take the time to read and comprehend information provided to them, whether online, in-store or as part of the packaging. Further information can also be obtained from the suppliers’ or service providers’ websites. Responsible suppliers are usually members of consumer bodies that adhere to a code of conduct and assist suppliers in terms of compliance. The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (https://www.cgcsa.co.za/about-cgcsa/) not only assists suppliers but also provides information to consumers and advocates for transparency in the consumer market. In South Africa certain consumer protection institutions have been tasked to inform, educate and assist consumers when it comes to redress and enforcement of their rights. The National Consumer Commission is central to consumer protection law in South Africa (http://www.thencc.gov.za/). With regard to smart products, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (https://www.icasa.org.za/) and the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud of South Africa (http://www.cgso.org.za/) can be approached for further information and the lodging of complaints. Be smart about your smart products – and know your rights!
- Author Prof. J Barnard and Prof. CM van Heerden of the Consumer Protection Law Cluster of the Mercantile Law Department