Chapter 9 Introduction

Older adults are major contributors to the U.S. economy through consumer spending. This spending, however, must take place in a healthy marketplace. Older adults must have access to products and services that create value, solve problems, and make lives better. In such a fair and vibrant marketplace, older adults have the power to make informed choices about the options that best serve their needs at an affordable price. They have the confidence that the products and services available to them are safe. And they have the knowledge that if a company violates their trust or attempts to unfairly dominate the market, there will be pathways to effective redress for them and their communities.

New technologies have dramatically increased choice and competition. They have also made it possible to compare prices and purchase many goods and services directly from suppliers around the world. However, these same technologies can hinder competition. Large online commerce platforms have the potential to control which offerings are included and promoted to consumers. Concentration among suppliers means that sudden increases in demand may be difficult to meet. And significant consolidation may prevent the deployment of innovative solutions from new market entrants.

New technologies have also accelerated the amount of personal data that companies collect and use. On the positive side, the data provide more tailored products and services that are faster and easier to use. The data can also bring about beneficial innovations that help all consumers, including older adults. At the same time, data may increasingly be harnessed in ways that are inaccurate, invasive, or even discriminatory. Often, little information is available about both the types of data collected and people’s ability to reject or limit data-sharing practices they oppose.

Ensuring consumer protections is essential in an economy so reliant on consumer spending—spending largely driven by older adults. Consumers, including older adults, need access to safe goods and services offered with fair and understandable terms and conditions. They need meaningful redress when products or services do not work or cause harm. And in a world where data play an increasingly important role, they need a right to privacy.