An illustration of someone in a face mask looking at a locked smartphone.
CR helped draft a bill to make sure COVID-19 contact-tracing apps make data privacy a priority.
Illustration: John Ritter

Keeping Health Info Private

What’s at stake: Contact tracing—which involves interviewing people who have a disease, notifying anyone with whom they’ve come into close contact, and referring the latter for tests—is a proven tool for containing the outbreak of infectious diseases.

To aid the effort during the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have recruited tech firms to develop smartphone apps and other digital tools to trace and monitor the spread, and automatically alert people who have come into contact with confirmed cases.

But many Americans are reluctant to trust tech firms to protect their sensitive health information—understandably so, given years of data breaches and privacy scandals.

How CR has your back: To address these concerns and thereby improve the effectiveness of contact tracing, CR advocates helped draft—and are urging legislators to pass—the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act. The bill would, among other things, ensure that data collected by contact-tracing apps and similar technology would be used only for public health purposes, and would explicitly prohibit using the data for commercial advertising, e-commerce, and efforts to affect access to employment and education. It would also give consumers control over their participation by mandating meaningful transparency and requiring opt-in consent.

CR is also supporting state-level efforts to pass similar laws in California and New York.

What you can do: Learn more about CR’s work for digital rights at CR’s Digital Labs website and stay up to date regarding the pandemic with CR’s Guide to the Coronavirus.

Raising the Bar for Car Safety

What’s at stake: In recent years more than 36,000 people were killed, and some 2.5 million injured, in U.S. auto crashes annually. Recent advances in safety technologies are effective at reducing crash and fatality risks—and automakers have committed to equipping most new vehicles with two of them, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, by September 2022.

But two other proven technologies—blind spot warning and pedestrian detection—have not received the same commitment. Some automakers sell them as part of add-on packages along with premium stereo systems and sunroofs. “Safety shouldn’t be treated as a luxury item,” says William Wallace, CR manager of safety policy.

How CR has your back: In the past, CR has encouraged automakers to add safety systems as standard features by giving extra points in our ratings for doing so. More recently, we spotlighted the issue with an analysis of the 15 top-selling models in the U.S. Among other things, it showed that blind spot warning comes standard on the base-level trim of just three of those models and that buyers must pay an extra $16,735—60 percent over the base sticker price—for a Chevrolet Silverado 1500 equipped with pedestrian detection.

CR is also pushing Congress to pass a bill by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., that would require certain crash avoidance technologies to come standard on all new vehicles.

What you can do: Learn more at CR’s Guide to Car Safety & Efficiency.

Making Infant Sleep Safer

What’s at stake: After CR’s 2019 investigation of infant inclined sleepers—which have been linked to at least 92 infant deaths—many retailers, including Amazon, Buy Buy Baby, Sears, and Walmart, pulled them from their shelves and online sites. Yet these dangerous products still circulate in the marketplace.

How CR has your back: CR is advocating for a federal law banning infant inclined sleepers. We also support new rules proposed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that would effectively prohibit them. Meanwhile, we called on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and manufacturers Baby Delight, Chicco, Hiccapop, and Nuna to immediately commit to removing all inclined sleepers from sale.

What you can do: Sign the online petition to Protect Our Babies and urge the companies to put babies’ safety first.

Progress Update

  • CR endorsed a federal bill that, if passed, would help food processing plants protect workers from COVID-19 risks, provide grants to help food banks and nonprofits meet the growing need for food in their communities, and prevent food waste by helping surplus food reach families in need.
  • An online CR petition demands that videoconferencing companies do more to protect our online security and privacy.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a CR-endorsed law expanding protections against price gouging on products that protect people from COVID-19.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the September 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.