Where Consumer Reports Stands on Privacy Issues

Individuals should be able to exercise choice and control over the use of their data

Michael Brandon Meyers

Consumer Reports believes companies should tell you in simple language about the kinds of personal information they collect and how your information could be shared, sold, and used. You should be given clear options to control the collection and use of your data. And you should be confident that companies are handling your information securely.

Here at Consumer Reports, we strive to make our own privacy policies clear, concise, and actionable. We listen to our customers, and we take the safety of their data very seriously. In our business relationships with digital companies such as Google and other third parties, we follow best practices and strive to always act responsibly. Our ultimate goal is for our practices to reflect the ideal marketplace we want to achieve. While we are not there yet, we will continue to innovate and champion on behalf of consumers.

We believe that for too long, consumers have carried the entire burden of protecting their personal data online. Privacy policies are often drafted with an eye on the company’s liability rather than the consumer’s understanding.

That’s why we have advocated for laws to better protect your privacy. We need clear rules of the road for companies to safeguard your data and ensure you have a say in how your information is used.

For starters, we need a strong law to help prevent harmful data breaches. According to the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, more than 900 million records have been compromised from more than 5,000 data breaches made public since 2005.

Check out these 66 ways to protect your privacy right now and our 10-minute privacy tuneup. And be sure to read Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Julia Angwin's essay, in which the ProPublica senior reporter shares her own lessons on data privacy.

Members of Congress have introduced legislation endorsed by Consumer Reports that would set minimum standards for the security of your data, including requirements for companies to promptly notify you and the government when they discover a breach. But despite the long list of breaches we’ve seen in recent years—from Home Depot to Target to eBay—Congress still hasn’t reached a consensus on how to put strong protections in place.

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed privacy rules for broadband internet providers, in light of the vast amount of personal information available to these companies as well as how essential broadband has become to our daily lives. The details of the rules are still being hammered out, and we have urged the FCC to ensure that consumers have the safeguards they need so their private lives won’t become an open book.

At the same time we’re pressing for rules of the road, we encourage companies to highlight and compete on how they handle their customers’ data.

Your personal information has tremendous value, and consumers should be able to exercise choice and control over the use of their data. When it comes to the sharing of your information, consumers and companies should have a fair and open exchange, where the benefits and obligations are clear and meaningful to the consumer.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the November 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.