The nonprofit consumer group, best known for its popular magazine, is expanding its efforts in the data privacy realm with a just-announced Digital Lab—an initiative backed by the founder of Craigslist.
In the internet-of-things era, where everything from your car to your refrigerator may be scooping up data about you, the nation’s best-known consumer watchdog organization is turning its lens on digital privacy.
Consumer Reports, formerly known as Consumers Union, announced last week that it will launch a new Digital Lab, which will test and report on the ways that products and services manage consumer data. Consumer Reports President and CEO Marta Tellado said the initiative is intended to shed light on big questions about data privacy and security in the digital age.
“Our digital testing has already showed how products and services we use every day can expose us to many new and potential harms,” Tellado said, acccording to a blog post announcing the plan. “Consumer Reports’ new Digital Lab will reveal precisely how and where our rights are undermined by the unchecked influence of technology.”
The project will be partly funded through a $6 million grant from Craig Newmark, the billionaire founder of Craigslist who has donated heavily to nonprofit endeavors in recent years, particularly those related to journalism. It is the largest gift in Consumer Reports’ history.
“We deal with a complex set of challenges in today’s digital era, and this investment will expand Consumer Reports’ scope to address critical issues that impact consumers,” Newmark said in the blog post.
The gift is the second such donation that the watchdog group has received in recent years from Newmark, a former Consumer Reports board member. A previous donation funded the development of the Digital Standard, an open-source process for evaluating the data use of connected devices. The Digital Lab will rely on the standard when evaluating products and services with its famously aggressive testing strategy.
In an interview with Fast Company, Tellado said the goal is to encourage better data practices while empowering consumers with knowledge and choices.
“The Digital Lab in a broader sense is going to be a place for the generation of ideas and actions that promote digital rights and investigations in a world of dominant platforms—in a world of big tech,” she said. “It’s not enough to know where your privacy is being violated. What are the real choices you have? What could further competition do to those choices? These are the questions we want to explore.”
She added that consumers are looking for guidance in a mysterious, digitally connected product landscape.
“You can’t overlook the incredible change in the marketplace and in products and services that consumers are really trying to navigate,” Tellado said. “And I think now more than ever, they’re looking for a trusted and independent partner that can provide a road map.”