Viewpoint: Improving the marketplace for consumers

    This page highlights efforts by Consumers Union and others to improve the marketplace

    Published: July 02, 2015 06:00 AM

    Actions you can take this month

    Stop deceptive ads in YouTube app for kids

    Geared toward children ages 5 and younger, Google's YouTube Kids app is supposed to provide them with age-appropriate content. But that content is intermingled with "user generated" videos that are actually program-length ads for toys and candy. Several groups, including Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can share your concerns with the FTC.

    Fight surprise bills

    Have you ever opened a medical statement that didn't quite add up because of an error or a surprise charge? Share your story and get state-specific resources.

    The win: Safety labels for tenderized beef

    Beef that has been mechanically tenderized must soon carry a label, according to a new rule by the Department of Agriculture. Consumers Union pushed hard for that action because the process can drive dangerous bacteria deep into meat, increasing the risk of food poisoning. The new label will include cooking instructions to help ensure that bacteria are killed.

    How a fight against robocalls gave rise to an activist

    Most people consider robocalls to be a nuisance, but Aaron Foss saw them as a challenge. The freelance programmer built a call-blocking application, Nomorobo, and entered it in a Federal Trade Commission–sponsored contest for the best tech solution to stop robocalls. When it won a $25,000 prize, his first thought was to take the money and run. "I thought I'd go on vacation," says Foss, laughing.

    Then news of the award broke, and he heard from about 3,500 people who had been harassed or scammed by the calls. "Their stories stuck with me," he says. "This was a problem to be solved."

    So Foss immersed himself in finding a solution, testified before a Senate subcommittee, and dedicated himself to bringing his invention to market. So far, Nomorobo has blocked more than 25 million robocalls. The cloud-based app, which analyzes caller IDs and automatically disconnects suspicious calls, is free for many consumers who use Internet-based VoIP service; Foss says he's committed to keeping it that way. "Eventually, this will be built into every phone line," he says, "and the carriers will be paying for it."

    Earlier this year, Foss delivered to the Federal Communications Commission 30 cases of paper with more than 25,000 messages from his users and all of Nomorobo's 2014 call logs. "I told them, ‘Here's the scale of the problem,' " he says, " ‘and here's how passionate people are.' "

    And it appears that the FCC took note. On June 18, the agency approved measures to help people halt robocalls by giving phone companies full authority to arm customers with technology to prevent the intrusion.

    Editor's Note:

    This article also appeared in the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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