Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Online database for consumer complaints sparks nationwide debate

From FinallyFast:

A U.S House of Representatives proposal to create an online database for consumer complaints is generating some controversy over whether the technology will cripple businesses.

The House of Representatives is working to generate funding for an online database of consumer complaints, which was originally part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Through the law, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would oversee a massive online database of all consumer complaints about products that risk injury or death. The database will be available to any consumer or business. Those who issue complaints will have their identities hidden from the public, but will be granted the option to attach their names in the complaint sent directly to the manufacturer.

According to the CPSC, the database will streamline the process of collecting and analyzing product complaints in the country.

"The database was established in order to inform consumers of pending product safety complaints during the CPSC investigation period, which sometimes takes years,” the CPSC explained in its statement. “Currently, if the CPSC believes that a product may be defective or dangerous enough to be pulled from the market; it must negotiate a recall with the product's manufacturer, which can take months or even years.”

The organization added that the period during which complaints are processed may allow other consumers to “unwittingly continue to buy the defective and dangerous product.” Because the current system still requires consumers to complete “public records requests” with the CPSC, which needs to be filed with the product’s manufacturer, the number of consumers affected by defective or dangerous products can become significantly larger before any are aware of the problem, according to the statement.

“The database is also restricted to the types of consumer goods overseen by the CPSC, which does not include food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco, automobiles or tires,” the CPSC explained. “Consumer advocates are hailing the database as "a resource that will revolutionize the way people make buying decisions."

While the funding will use the internet to help protect consumers from dangerous products, others in the government and the technology sector are concerned that the database, and the CPSC, may fall victim to massive federal budget cuts. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, has already gained support in his movement to block funding for the database. Organizations supporting manufacturers have backed Pompeo, who claims the database project “will drive jobs overseas,” and “will increase the cost for manufacturers and consumers.”

At the same time, a report from the Huffington Post about the proposal raised concerns about the future of the CPSC in general. With the government facing budget cuts in several areas, and mounting pressure from voters and government organizations to reduce the federal debt, the report warned that “the Consumer Product Safety Commission - never popular with manufacturers - is a ripe target.”