Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz

DokumenttypRede | Datum14. März 2017 | Person Heiko MaasG20 consumer summit »Building a digital world consumers can trust«

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Germany

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Welcome to the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection!

I am delighted that you have all come to Germany. Today and tomorrow, we will write history together: For the first time in the history of the G20, a consumer summit is taking place; for the first time, the economy will not only be viewed through the eyes of governments, businesses and managers, but also through the eyes of the consumer. I believe this is a necessary addition to the work of the G20, and one which is long overdue.

Berlin, and this building in particular, is an ideal location to write history.

In 1989, this building was the international press centre of the East German government. On 9 November of that year, a press conference was held here announcing freedom of travel for the citizens of East Germany. That same night, people rushed to the border and brought down the Berlin Wall which had divided this city for so long.

Today, in other parts of the world, there are still people who believe that problems can be solved by building walls.

But as the history of Berlin has shown, people do not want to be separated by walls. Today, we need to improve cooperation instead of creating new borders.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Germany has chosen "Shaping an interconnected world" as the slogan for its G20 Presidency.

The digital revolution has given consumers access to information and markets on a scale which would have previously been unimaginable.

But this increase in connectivity also brings with it new risks – to privacy and self-determination, for example.

This is why we have to take active measures to shape our interconnected world. To do this, we will need certain rules; rules which must be established fairly and democratically, not only on a national level, but internationally, too.

Ladies and gentlemen,
we are here today on the eve of World Consumer Rights Day.

This day marks the historic address on consumer rights by former US President John F. Kennedy. That speech took place 55 years ago. This was a time when Bill Gates had just left kindergarten; when an Apple Store still sold fruit; and when all of the world's computers put together had only a fraction of the storage capacity that a single smartphone has today.

Nevertheless, the four basic consumer rights outlined by John F. Kennedy are still highly relevant in the digital age.

People today still have a right to safety. However, in the digital world, it is not our health and lives that are in danger, but rather our privacy and data security.

The right to be informed is also relevant today – but we must ensure that consumers are not buried beneath a mountain of information. Instead, the most important information must be communicated clearly and effectively.

The right to choose is also currently under threat. Whenever access to digital products is linked to the provision of personal data, for example, or when products are not compatible and consumers are tied to a single provider.

And, finally, the right to be heard is as relevant as ever: It is crucial that decisions are not made over consumers' heads; their interests must be heard and respected.

To ensure that none of these rights are neglected, we have you, ladies and gentlemen: the consumer protection advocates who lend a powerful voice to consumers – both politically and socially – on a national and international level.

You also use the internet for your work, in order to spread information, to connect people, and to assert your interests.

But the massive educational and democratic potential of the internet is in danger.

Fake news, campaigns of misinformation, social media bots – all of these aim to manipulate the formation of opinion on the internet.

In a free society, liberty can never be protected by the State alone. It also depends on the people, on their ability to judge and their courage to contradict; it depends on NGOs and civil society; it depends on the freedom and diversity of information; and it depends on critical journalism: on journalists who uncover lies and who, as part of their professional ethos, strive to report the truth instead of "alternative facts".

I believe we should all work together to preserve the freedoms that the internet can offer. The majority cannot allow itself to be abused by a small minority.

Ladies and gentlemen,
half a century after John F. Kennedy's speech, we are about to embark on a new chapter in international consumer protection.

"Building a digital world consumers can trust" – we have certainly taken on an ambitious project. But the project is worthwhile, because it connects people all over the world – people who surf the internet, use services and buy products every day – regardless of where they live, which passport they have, which God they believe in or the colour of their skin.

In the eyes of the digital market, we are all equal: users, customers, consumers – we are all people.

Welcome to Berlin!