Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds LISA HARRIS: I guess there are a lot of issues that arise from this as well. What are the downsides?
Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds REBECCA WATKINS: So as well as this kind of liquidity, there’s on the other hand this whole new range of restrictions on digital content, which perhaps weren’t the case with material goods once we’d actually purchased them. So there’s this whole range of restrictions on how we can use content once we’ve downloaded it or once we’ve subscribed to a particular platform. So restrictions might be on how we can use this content, so e-books, for example, might have restrictions on which devices we can use to access them.
Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds So if we download an e-book from one manufacturer, if we then decided to move our whole e-book collection onto another device from a competing manufacturer, we might not actually be able to do that because of digital rights management restrictions on that particular file. And it’s something that wouldn’t have happened in the market for material books. So it would be equivalent to going into a bookstore, buying a paperback that can only be read with a particular pair of glasses bought from the same store and then going to buy another pair of glasses from a competitor and suddenly we have to buy a whole new range of books, because they’re no longer compatible.
Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds So it’s something that if this happened in material consumption, people would kind of protest it seems completely bizarre. But actually in some markets in digital consumption it is commonplace.
Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds LISA HARRIS: OK. So what about looking to the future, then? What has your research identified as things which need to happen to take this forward?
Skip to 1 minute and 32 seconds REBECCA WATKINS: So there are some benefits for businesses. So if you better understand how people are consuming a particular type of digital product, you can perhaps better design that product to suit what they want to do with it and how they relate to it. So for example the video game market is really hot on this. So they’ve realised that people become very attached to their avatars in video games because quite often they can customise them and make them look really unique. So they developed this kind of special quality.
Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds So a number of companies have spotted this and actually enabled people to download a 3D printed copy so they can actually own a tangible version of their avatar within a video game. So they’re actually making money off of letting people materialise digital content. So there’s an ability to kind of spot trends like that and actually profit from those.
Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds LISA HARRIS: OK. So what other restrictions might we need to be aware of?
Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds REBECCA WATKINS: So one of the restrictions that’s probably received the most attention is the inability to move goods between people. So a couple of years ago there was this huge news story about Bruce Willis was apparently going to take Apple to court over wanting his daughters to inherit his iTunes collection and whether or not he could do that. And the story was later denied. But it raised awareness for a lot of people of, can I actually pass on this content that’s perhaps become very important to me?
Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds And it’s a legal grey area, because a lot of content actually exists within an account which is defined as non-transferable in an agreement that consumers will have agreed to when they actually started using the content, whether it was downloading software or whether it was signing up to a platform.
Skip to 3 minutes and 5 seconds And the issue is if it turns up that people can’t move content between individuals, all of these practises like lending and sharing, passing on goods to other people, hand-me-downs, heirlooms, suddenly become a lot less applicable in digital markets. So the social side of consumption becomes perhaps as relevant in this context. So do we perhaps see very individualised consumption, where we download an object, consume it ourselves, but aren’t really able to pass it on to other people? So another issue which perhaps people are less aware of is the lack of permanence of some of their digital content. And it’s something which people often only realise when a kind of disaster happens or when an issue arises.
Skip to 3 minutes and 45 seconds So for example, this individual who has her treasured avatar in World of Warcraft, perhaps she might actually stop playing World of Warcraft at a certain age. But will she have to continue paying a monthly subscription fee for the rest of her life if she doesn’t want to lose this avatar? So do people become trapped into contracts because they don’t want to lose content? And the issue is that where things are stored online, there’s always a lack of permanence. So what if the service goes down? What if your account’s terminated? So people are forming meaningful relationships with content which they don’t really have any guarantee is going to be there in 10 years’ or 20 years’ time.
Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds So a good example is Google recently ran an advertisement which showed a father actually e-mailing his daughter from the day of her birth. So he’d sent her photographs and videos and stories about what happened during the day to an e-mail account which was essentially a present for her, so it was like a digital scrapbook for them to reflect on when she was older. And we see people doing this with things like Facebook. They’ll create digital scrapbooks with e-mail accounts, with blogs. And the issue is, they might be around for the next few years.
Skip to 4 minutes and 54 seconds But when that child reaches 18 or perhaps when they even reach 70 and they want to look back on their childhood, is that content still going to be there? So that’s an issue which I think perhaps is going to receive a lot more attention in the future, when it becomes much more of an issue. So I think one of the most important issues to raise here is the implications for the consumer. So often the business models in the digital market have been designed to benefit the companies that are operating there. And often perhaps people don’t necessarily consider what are the implications for how we consume objects, implications for society.
Skip to 5 minutes and 28 seconds So for example, what happens when an individual sees a social networking profile as being a treasured digital scrapbook that they want to give to their children to reflect on throughout their lives, and yet the company just sees it as a service that they’re providing and that they can change at any time, that they can withdraw if they wish to?
Skip to 5 minutes and 44 seconds So what happens if we’ve invested a lot of time into a platform, for example say a social media platform where we’ve been uploading photographs, posting statuses, we’ve spent time connecting with friends and building up kind of a social network on that particular platform, and yet the terms of service change and all of a sudden we have the option to completely leave the platform and abandon all of our content, all of the kind of connections that we’ve made there or stay on a platform even though perhaps we don’t necessarily agree with the terms of service anymore?
Skip to 6 minutes and 13 seconds So there’s issues of, do people kind of become ensnared in agreements that are constantly changing and they don’t really have a way to get out of them without a significant loss? So if we develop a better understanding of how these business models impact consumers, then we can potentially call for changes to the market and call for business models which are perhaps better suited to consumers as well as companies.
Skip to 6 minutes and 36 seconds LISA HARRIS: So in summary, then, Rebecca, what do you see the future is in all of this?
Skip to 6 minutes and 42 seconds REBECCA WATKINS: I would see more issues arising for consumers in the near future. So they’re starting to form really meaningful relationships with digital content. Some of this content they may now have had for perhaps a decade. So it’s stuff that has been in their lives for a long time, may have some special significance to them. And they’re starting to realise, hang on. There’s a lot of restrictions on these things that perhaps I wasn’t aware of.
Skip to 7 minutes and 3 seconds LISA HARRIS: OK. Thank you very much.
Can I keep it and share it?
In this second part, Rebecca considers the restrictions on digital content that as consumers we might not be aware of without reading the small print of the contractual agreements.
What happens if we want to keep and share a child’s digital scrapbook until they are an adult, or indefinitely?
Can we pass on our digital assets when we die?
© University of Southampton 2016