Last week, Consumer Reports announced that it received a $6 million donation from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to launch a Digital Lab focused on consumer rights. This donation is the largest in the history of Consumer Reports, a nonprofit advocacy membership organization. The Digital Lab will look at data privacy and security, fair market competition, transparency and consumer choice in the digital marketplace. The Lab may also help Consumer Reports put pressure on government agencies to respond more swiftly and seriously to consumer complaints about digital products and services.
Consumers can expect to see some early initiatives including: the evaluation of privacy and security of printers and routers; expansion of the testing of connected home products, password managers and digital devices and services; and researching digital tools to help people understand and change their online privacy settings.
We deal with a complex set of challenges in todays digital era, and this investment will expand Consumer Reports scope to address critical issues that impact consumers, said Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies and former board member of Consumer Reports, in a June 4 news release.
Consumer Reports has a strong track record – from ensuring the security of seatbelts in cars to keeping toxins out of food – and this new initiative will increase transparency in the digital marketplace, bolstering consumers ability to have more control, more options, and stronger voices, added Newmark.
The new Digital Lab will research, rate and report on companies products and practices that have an impact on data privacy and security, transparency and fair competition. As the project evolves, the plan is to expand across all the products and services categories that Consumer Reports covers. Another goal of the project is to hold the tech industry to higher standards and to push for marketplace protection for consumers, specifically around privacy and antitrust.
Todays digital giants have unprecedented influence over the choices we make, the information we receive, and the ways we experience the world, and that influence is often hidden from us, said Marta Tellado, Consumer Reports CEO and President. The rapid growth of these companies is sapping us of our ability to control our own lives and make informed decisions, and our government has been unable or unwilling to keep them in check by setting appropriate and necessary standards.
Our digital testing has already showed how products and services we use every day can expose us to many new and potential harms. Consumer Reports new Digital Lab will reveal precisely how and where our rights are undermined by the unchecked influence of technology. Armed with that knowledge, consumers can make more secure choices that protect our privacy and hold these giants to account, Tellado added.
To provide some direction for the Lab, Consumer Reports will form a new digital advisory council with industry experts and thought leaders representing technology, academia and journalism. Newmark will serve as honorary chair.
This project continues Consumer Reports work in the digital standard arena. With Newmarks vision and investment, Consumer Reports and digital partners Disconnect, Ranking Digital Rights, The Cyber Independent Testing Lab and Aspiration developed The Digital Standard in 2017. The Digital Standard includes the following broad categories:
- Build quality
- Data security
- User safety
- Access and control
- Data retention
- Overreach – collecting too much data
- Third party tracking – data sharing
- Right to repair
- Business model
- Human rights and corporate social responsibility
[Editors note: The Digital Standard is far more detailed than we can report here. For more information visit TheDigitalStandard.org.]
Consumer Reports applied this Digital Standards to TV testing, which discovered that some smart TVs were vulnerable to hackers. As a result of their research, Samsung fixed a security flaw.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization supported by members and donations. Memberships range in price from $7.95 a month to $55 a year for digital access. Print memberships are also available for $30 per year for 13 regular issues, two special issues and two gift issues.
It seems that data and privacy breaches are happening on an almost-weekly basis these days. There is also a growing perception that tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon arent being transparent enough nor are they safeguarding consumer data. While such companies are likely to push back against the work of consumer watchdogs like Consumer Reports, consumers will be pleased to know that there are influential people and agencies that do care about their digital rights and protections. Bravo, Mr. Newmark, bravo.