CPSIA: the new consumer-complaint database

by Walter Olson on December 1, 2010

A 3-2 vote at the Consumer Product Safety Commission last week ensures that the federal government will put its imprimatur behind allegations about supposed hazards in consumer products — whether true or not. I explain in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

P.S. Kelly Young comments: “I wonder if they’d be willing to maintain a public database of complaints against federal employees?” More: Coyote (comparing relative sophistication of Amazon, TripAdvisor consumer ratings systems with primitive nature of CPSC’s); letter from Rep. Joe Barton, PDF; Washington Post; ACSH.

{ 8 comments }

1 Allan 12.01.10 at 3:20 pm

To: Business
From: Consumer

“Welcome to our world.”

This happens to individuals on a daily basis, whether it be bogus credit reporting or turning legitimate complaints into federal cases.

Businesses had, what, 220 years since the US came into conception for figuring out a way to do this. Business failed. So they got this. Reaping what you sow and all that.

By the way, unlike banks looking at credit reports, consumers will be able to read the complaints and ferret out the good from the bad. This will only help businesses.

2 Walter Olson 12.01.10 at 4:01 pm

The differences between an official government-sponsored registry, and ones that are private, would seem pretty salient here. As our earlier coverage of “gripe sites” would indicate, I think consumers should enjoy robust legal freedom to complain online about businesses whose behavior they’ve disliked, and collate and publish others’ complaints. That mirrors the right of businesses (through credit bureaus and the like) to assemble and disseminate their tales of bad experiences with customers.

I was not aware that lenders considering credit reports are forbidden to “ferret out the good from the bad” by disregarding dubious or ambiguous data points or asking borrowers for clarification. Does some regulator require them to treat the reports in a purely mechanical fashion, then?

3 Mike 12.01.10 at 5:06 pm

This “database” is not for consumers (they wont read it before making a purchase) , and its not for businesses (they wont read it either).

Its only for plaintiff’s lawyers. To either fish for new clients or, more likely, when they already have a client, to quickly flush out tons of “similar complaints” to place in front of a jury, “proving” the product is defective and also that the evil corporation did nothing about these previous complaints.
On top of that, the complaints are on a “government” website, so they must be true.

4 Wendy 12.02.10 at 1:04 am

And how does this make anyone safer?

First, the CPSC has acknowledge the difficulties in getting people to stay aware of recalls. All people have to do is sign up for an email list. Why are people going to go to this site and check products? They don’t even know about the recall database.

There is a system in place for the CPSC to be notified of product injuries. One assumes these are investigated. Yes, this public database is not going to be investigated?

This is just going to be job security for consumer groups and the media who thrives on creating more fear among the masses.

To Allen: I’m not sure what your refer to as businesses’ failure? I’m assuming you mean of course that business has failed at creating safe products? The safety rate of children’s products is very high, somewhere in the 99% range.

Oh, yeah, well Mattel did fail pretty significantly and yet they got a pass why the rest of us suffer.

What a major bummer that our government can’t pass and implement laws in a logical way.

5 Allan 12.02.10 at 9:15 am

Wendy,

The business failure I am referring to is a comprehensive database for consumers to make legitimate complaints and to have those complaints available to others. The problem is compounded by confidential settlement agreements.

There are bad products out there. Companies know of problems, but figure that the cost of repairing the problems is greater than the cost of paying for damages. Consumers should have the right to know about the problems. Businesses have not come up with a way to achieve this, so the government steps in.

Yes, 99% of the toys are fine. But I don’t want my children to get the 1%. Can you figure out a better way to enable me to protect my children from unscrupulous sellers?

Walter, businesses can ferret out the good from the bad. Some just don’t do it. And the businesses are afraid that consumers will act the same way with this new reporting system. In this case, businesses are the ganders…

6 John 12.02.10 at 9:33 am

99% safe toys is a low number. More like 99.999%. One way to keep your children safe from the remaining .001% is to use common sense and keep an eye on them, but I have to concede there is no way to keep children 100% or more safe.

7 John David Galt 12.02.10 at 1:51 pm

The feds may not publicize complaints against their employees, but I don’t see any reason why the complainers can’t do so themselves. I’ll bet a web site that acted as a clearinghouse for the purpose would be huge in no time.

8 DensityDuck 12.02.10 at 9:29 pm

“The business failure I am referring to is a comprehensive database for consumers to make legitimate complaints and to have those complaints available to others.”

If only there were some kind of place that Consumers could get Reports from independent reviewers.

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