The ever growing reach of a few digital giants into people's daily lives is the greatest challenge facing consumers today, said Consumers International Director General Amanda Long at the first Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy, held in Geneva from 17 to 18 October.
By 2020, some 70% of the population will have a smart phone, she said, and most people will rely on just a few companies for everything from accessing information to communicating with each other to monitoring their health.
"This combination of technology and size gives these companies remarkable power because it's increasingly difficult for consumers to walk away if they're not happy," she said.
The IGE must therefore anticipate the new challenges consumers will face and respond faster than in the past, Ms. Long said.
"It took 75 years for the telephone to reach an audience of 50 million. But it took Facebook just one year and it took Snapchat half a year to reach the same audience," she said.
"If we don't make the need to stay in front a priority we will fall so far behind we will no longer be relevant, despite the excellent work that we've done over the last three years," she said, referring to the work done to update to the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection.