When asked to list America’s founding fathers, most of us call to mind six names: Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, Washington, and Adams. But students of history know that George Mason deserves to be included in that list. The Virginian whom Jefferson called “the wisest man of his generation” not only penned some of the most memorable phrases in the Declaration of Independence, but his claim, “I would sooner chop off my right hand than put it to [i.e., sign] the Constitution as it now stands” led directly to the creation of the inalienable Bill of Rights.
Just as the United States needed to establish foundational protections for its citizens to thrive, so what I call “The Impatience Economy”—accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic—creates an urgent demand to codify a set of principles to guide governments and businesses to enable consumers to prosper. Social Retail Marketing (SRM) will empower consumers, allowing them to discover new products tailored to their individual interests and make frictionless purchases within their social media feeds and favorite messaging channels. But for the full benefits of this revolutionary change to occur swiftly and efficiently, we need similar inalienable digital consumer rights. Although, unlike Mason, I’m not offering to chop off my hand, I urge the adoption of the following by governments, big-Tech, and major players in the digital and social ecosystem.
Digital Consumers’ Bill of Rights
Consumers of the world have an inalienable right to digital expression, privacy, and ownership of their individual digital identity. They also have the right to choose what, when, where, and how they consume in our pursuit of convenience, lifestyle, peace of mind, and freedoms.
- The First Right is for consumers to freely express their views online and not to be censored by the prevailing sentiment exercised by the ruling bodies of government or business.
- The Second Right is for the consumer to own their digital identity, actions, and behaviors. Consumers’ data should not be used without consent and fair-value exchange.
- The Third Right is to defend consumers’ privacy through encryption and intellectual property rights over their own data and consumption behavior.
- The Fourth Right is the freedom to choose, allowing consumers to control what, when, where, and how they consume everything and anything.
- The Fifth Right is not to have the aforementioned rights infringed upon by paternalistic government regulations or restrictive business policies.
The First Right ensures that consumers can express their view freely, not being bullied to falsify beliefs, which renders personal data unreliable for businesses that want to help consumers discover new products and services. This right protects consumers from censorship by either tyrannical majorities or the shifting sentiments of government or businesses. At present, social media companies can make their own rules about what we can see, forward, and discover; they can restrict free access across a channel based on their taste, political bias, or capricious sense of right and wrong. To be clear, I’m not advocating large-scale government intrusion. Rather, I side with Milton Friedman’s view that “government’s role is to serve as an umpire to prevent individuals from coercing one another,” not to serve as either a participant or “as a parent charged with the duty of coercing some to aid others.”
The Second Right ensures that consumers can own their digital identities, that the honest data we provide is not broadcast indiscriminately to those with whom we would not choose to associate. Our digital identity should be like our credit card and social security numbers. Consumers give them out only when they derive value by sharing that information. Such value could consist of being offered personally curated information that allows consumers to discover products and services they wouldn’t have discovered on their own. But it should also include a piece of the profit from the advertising revenue social media and big-tech get from monetizing consumers’ identity and behavior (e.g., a discount or credit on products consumers buy).
The Third Right would grant consumers the power to have total privacy when they want it—just as business executives do when they enter a board room to discuss a new product. Personal data should be afforded the same protections by law as intellectual property. Consumers should be free to turn off their digital identities at any time and to engage through social media channels on a private basis. Consumers deserve a right to selective confidentiality—what they expect when we talk to a doctor or a lawyer.
The Fourth Right enables free-market, non-zero-sum interactions between buyers and sellers. The digital age has effectively removed information asymmetries. Given the synergies of 5G mobile, AI, social networks, and rapid distribution channels, SRM has the potential to be the most powerfully liberating economic force since the Industrial Revolution. Myriad sustainable benefits can accrue to both buyers and sellers—provided they are free to act in their own enlightened self-interest.
The Fifth Right ensures that consumers can benefit from the four other rights, unrestricted by governmental overregulation or capricious corporate policies that curtail basic freedoms. Imagine what the governments might do if businesses misuse consumer data: legislators could easily step in and declare that every consumer’s digital identity must be erased after each transaction. Unable to form detailed consumer profiles, SRM businesses would falter. And consumers would suffer because, unless those businesses have a personal relationship with them, they can’t offer products and services that meet their needs. By taking proactive measures, businesses can avoid this kind encroachment on consumer freedom.
At the birth of America, Jefferson told Madison he approved of the Constitution but was alarmed by ‘the omission of a bill of rights, which the people are entitled to against every government on earth… and that no government should refuse.” Consumers in The Impatience Economy deserve a similar set of protections: A Digital Consumers’ Bill of Rights™️.