An illustration of a car driving on a power cord.
Illustration: John Ritter

Protecting Kids’ Privacy

What’s at stake: Everyone who uses the web has reason to be concerned about online privacy. But children are especially vulnerable to privacy violations at the hands of online marketers, data brokers, and identity thieves.

That’s why a federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, requires that websites and apps get parents’ consent before collecting personal information from kids younger than 13.

How CR has your back: CR was one of the groups that pressed Congress to pass COPPA in 1998, and we worked with the government officials who updated the rules in 2012.

We were also part of a coalition that alleged that Google-owned YouTube was collecting information about kids without parental consent and using it to target ads. In April 2018 the coalition filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. And in a September 2019 announcement that echoed many of the coalition’s arguments, the FTC said Google and YouTube would pay $170 million to settle allegations of violating COPPA (which the companies neither admit nor deny).

CR is pleased that the FTC took action. But even though it was the largest civil penalty the FTC has ever obtained in a children’s privacy case, we don’t believe the punishment goes far enough to prevent future wrongdoing.

What you can do: For tips and tools for protecting your—and your kids’—online privacy, read “Your Guide to Digital Privacy” and learn more about CR’s work on Data Privacy here.

Keeping Meat Labels Honest

What’s at stake: The average U.S. adult consumes about 21 pounds of processed meats per year, from deli meats to hot dogs to bacon. The problem, as reported in our “Danger at the Deli” article, is that the curing process used to enhance the flavor and color (and extend the preservation) of these products results in nitrite levels that have been linked to cancer.

What’s more, CR’s latest testing of 31 deli meats found that processed meats cured with nitrates and nitrites from natural sources had about the same amount of the chemicals as those cured with synthetic ones. That’s important because current Department of Agriculture rules require meat cured using nonsynthetic sources, such as celery powder, to be labeled “uncured” or “no nitrates or nitrites added,” creating the false impression of a safer or healthier product.

How CR has your back: With our colleagues at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, CR submitted a petition to the USDA requesting a change to the misleading labeling rules. The petition, currently under review by the USDA, asks the agency to prohibit the “uncured” and “'no nitrates or nitrites added”' labels on meats processed using nonsynthetic sources of these chemicals. Instead, we’re asking for clear front-of-package labeling whenever they’re added, regardless of the source. More than 32,000 CR members have signed the petition.

What you can do: Add your name to our online petition and stay up-to-date on food safety at CR’s Guide to Food & Drink.

Pushing for EV Choices

What’s at stake: In August, Colorado became the 11th zero-emissions-vehicle (ZEV) state, after passing rules requiring automakers to sell a growing share of electric vehicles (EVs) each year. EVs are cheaper to fuel and maintain than gas-fueled alternatives, and help to reduce smog and carbon pollution. Plus, a recent CR survey found that most prospective car buyers in Colorado are interested in EVs. Advocates of the program believe it will give consumers more zero-emissions options sooner, including SUVs and pickup trucks.

How CR has your back: CR mobilized Colorado members to testify before the state’s Air Quality Control Commission in support of the new standard, and CR policy advocate Shannon Baker-Branstetter served as an expert witness during the rulemaking process. The measure was approved by an 8-1 vote, with commissioners citing the overwhelming public support from written submissions and in-person testimony as a driving force.

CR also released a report in September finding that several states are taxing EV drivers at rates much higher than the average driver pays in gas taxes, which is an ineffective way to make up for highway fund shortfalls and punishes drivers for choosing ZEVs over gas-burning alternatives.

What you can do: To learn more about electric cars read our special report “The Electric Car Comes of Age” and see CR’s ratings of current EVs

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.