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Consumer Reports on Privacy

(Image Credit – Consumer Reports)

Long before there were online product reviews, in the pre-internet age, if you wanted to buy a new appliance or check out the reputation of car brand, there was one gold standard for trusted purchasing advice: Consumer Reports. The nonprofit’s print magazine was a paragon of impartial product and service reviews, “working to create a fairer, safer, and healthier marketplace.”

Given the prevalence of crowd-sourced opinion sites like Yelp and the thousands of Amazon user ratings, it might seem like the even-toned publication with a dedication to journalistic impartiality would go the way of so many print and subscription giants. Instead, the non-profit has identified a new role for itself in our networked age: Guardian of consumer privacy.

An Old Standard Partners with the Next Generation

In March of 2017, Consumer Reports announced it had partnered with cyber experts to “create a new open-source industry standard to make connected devices safer.” Consumer Reports has a track record of creating standards which better inform consumers and influence manufacturers. The group developed a safety protocol for crash-testing car seats and contributed scientific data to SUV rollover tests.

Consumer Reports CEO Marta Tellado recently spoke to the Too Embarrassed to Ask technology podcast and “says Consumer Reports wants to “bend the marketplace” in the direction of more privacy for users and more reliable products.” In addition to informing consumers about privacy and security issues, Tellado believes the organization can “mobilize subscribers to advocate for those causes with manufacturers and legislators.”

Though the full Consumer Reports standard is lengthy and detailed, it focuses on four main initiatives:

1. Products should be built to be secure

2. Products should preserve consumer privacy

3. Products should protect the idea of ownership

4. Companies should act ethically

With transparency as its aim in developing the standard, this “1.0” version is available on GitHub to bring stakeholders into the conversation about the standard’s future.

In addition to the development of this standard, Consumer Reports also offers a guide to privacy, including articles and tutorial videos to help people take charge of their privacy and security.

The Need for Impartial Advocates

Consumer Reports entry into the fight for the right to privacy is an important step in raising privacy awareness and creating organizations which citizens can ally themselves with in order to take social responsibility for their privacy.

As the past year has shown us, vast social media platforms driven by advertising revenue are vulnerable to agency problems, in which for-profit models may not represent the public’s best interest. Mis(or dis!)information can be a real threat to a clear understanding of outside influences.

We can all benefit from organizations with credible brand equity dedicated to helping us defend our rights and shape the future of privacy. We cheer Consumer Reports’ efforts and hope to see their influence expand in the years ahead.

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