An illustration of a hand reaching out of a smartphone to grab a stack of money.
Illustration: John Ritter

Curbing Debt Harassment

What’s at stake: Debt collectors routinely contact consumers by phone, of course. But a new rule put in place by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this past October will—starting in November 2021—explicitly let them do so by email, text message, and even social media messaging. It also lets collectors make up to seven calls to each person every week—more if they have multiple debts—and send unlimited electronic collection messages.

These changes are being made in the midst of a historic economic crisis. What’s more, this new rule doesn’t require debt collectors to verify that the money in question is still owed—even though they are notorious for trying to collect debts that were already paid or weren’t owed in the first place.

How CR has your back: CR has been working to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices for years. Among other things, we asked the CFPB to limit collection calls, require collectors to get a consumer’s consent before emailing or texting, and ban all collections via social media.

What you can do: Sign our petition urging the CFPB to stop debt collection harass­ment, and learn what to do if a debt collector contacts you.

Crying Foul on Big Tech

What’s at stake: A recent CR survey found that American consumers across the political spectrum are concerned about the growing power of online platforms such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook. A clear majority said the government needs to step up oversight of these companies.

CR’s nationally rep­re­sen­ta­tive survey of 3,219 adult U.S. residents found that roughly 3 out of 4 Americans worry about the power wielded by today’s biggest tech companies. Eight in 10 said Big Tech mergers and acquisitions unfairly undermine competition and consumer choice. Six in 10 support more government regulation, and 65 percent said the companies should be held accountable for the products and services sold on their online platforms. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed by CR said they were concerned about the amount of data being collected about them.

How CR has your back: CR advocates shared the findings with members of Congress who were conducting a bipartisan investigation into the power and practices of the biggest online platform giants.

When the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee released its report, it identified a number of abuses of market power—and highlighted CR’s survey findings.

“The House staff report lays out clearly how our online marketplace is increasingly stacked against us and is not serving consumers fairly,” says Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports. “A handful of powerful companies are restricting and controlling the choices of everyone else.”

What you can do: Sign CR’s petition telling elected officials and regulators to hold Big Tech accountable.

Protecting Online Data

What’s at stake: The California Consumer Privacy Act, approved in 2018, is the only online privacy law in the U.S. that gives consumers the right to access, delete, and stop the sale of their personal information.

But the law wasn’t working as planned: Companies were using loopholes to get around the restrictions and to deny consumer opt-out requests.

How CR has your back: CR has been working to address problems in the CCPA since it was signed. In October, for example, we published a report documenting companies’ failure to comply.

And we threw our support behind Proposition 24, a California state ballot initiative designed to close many of the loopholes that companies were exploiting. In November, state voters approved it, and the reforms will be implemented over the next two years.

What you can do: Learn more about our work for digital rights at CR’s Digital Lab.

Progress Update

CR is opposing a recently adopted Department of Energy rule that would create a new class of dishwashers for which the “normal” cycle would take 1 hour or less. The rule change not only is unnecessary—most dishwashers already have a quick-wash option—but also could lead to new costs for both consumers and the environment. That’s because, counterintuitively, longer cycle times enable today’s dishwashers to conserve energy. Today’s most efficient dishwashers also perform extremely well: All 35 of the models that earned an Excellent Overall Score in CR testing also received an Excellent rating for energy usage.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.