Podcast

Consumer Rights are Civil Rights with Marta Tellado

Marta Tellado is the president and CEO of Consumer Reports. In her book, BUYER AWARE, she contends that consumer rights are civil rights.

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by The New Story Is | 54 Mins

The New Story Is: Consumer Rights are Civil Rights with Marta Tellado (Consumer Reports)

Marta Tellado says that consumer rights are civil rights, and it’s time for us all to start acting like it.

The president and CEO of Consumer Reports—an 85+ year consumer advocacy organization with over 6 million members today—since 2014, Marta’s new book comes out swinging against the exploitation of tech’s so-called Big Four (Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook), a government that refuses to take action to protect consumers today, and the low standards that we have today as consumers.

Her new book is Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair and Transparent Marketplace.

In this interview with host Dave Ursillo, Marta shares her family’s origin story of fleeing from Communist Cuba in 1961 (and how it inspired her career in public service), the connections between a healthy democracy and a healthy consumer marketplace, and what a consumer-first economy could look like in the near future—if consumers like us harness our consumer rights as civil rights, and start to demand more action.

She tells us about what makes Consumer Reports a unique nonprofit organization, shares new initiatives by Consumer Reports to shape a fair and equitable marketplace, how discrimination runs rampant in clandestine practices and invisible algorithms across the Internet today, and what we can do about it.

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Episode Transcript

We provide full episode transcripts for increased accessibility, especially for those who may be hard of hearing or for whom English is a second language. Please note that transcripts are not fully edited and may contain errors. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Dave Ursillo  00:00

Devices in our homes that listen to our most private conversations, location tracking apps on our phones that document everywhere we go from where we shop, to who we visit, and the very locations of where we live, invisible, unregulated algorithms that track us across the Internet shape, what we see and what we don’t, and can be manipulated to alter our emotions, our beliefs, or even how we vote in the next election.

Dave Ursillo  00:27

No, this isn’t the basis of a new dystopian science fiction novel. This is the world we’ve all come to know as consumers in the modern day marketplace. It’s not just me saying it or your paranoid cousin, or your YouTube loving next door neighbor.

Dave Ursillo  00:43

In her new book Buyer Aware, harnessing our consumer power for a safe, fair and transparent marketplace. The President and CEO of Consumer Reports, Marta Tellado, says that consumer rights or civil rights, and it’s time for us all to start acting like it.

Dave Ursillo  01:01

From The New Story Company, this is The New Story Is a podcast that explores the stories, perceptions and ideas that have come to shape the world today, as we know it. Along the way, we speak to talented guests who are championing the new stories that may shape our collective future for the good. I’m Dave Ursillo.

Dave Ursillo  01:21

We are honored to be joined today by Marta Tellado, a thought leader with an incredible record of public service throughout her career and who today leads America’s foremost consumer advocacy organization. You probably know Consumer Reports for safety reviews on things like new cars. But did you know that across its 85 plus year history, Consumer Reports has championed consumer interests long before they were in vogue, such as backing early research on cigarettes as a health threat in the 1950s, pushing for seatbelt laws and all new vehicles in the 1960s. Advocating for children’s car seat guidelines in the 1980s. And much, much more. 

Dave Ursillo  01:59

Today, Consumer Reports leads consumer advocacy and protection through independent product testing, investigative journalism, consumer oriented research, public education, and various forms of consumer advocacy. Martha has led the 6 million member strong nonprofit organization since 2014, where she’s been charged with modernizing the nonprofit into a dynamic, responsive organization that sets new standards for consumer rights in the modern marketplace. Prior to becoming president and CEO of Consumer Reports, in 2014, Marta served as vice president at the Ford Foundation, Executive Director of the Domestic Policy group at the Aspen Institute Director for national issues and outreach for US Senator Bill Bradley, and as vice president of the Partnership for Public Service. 

Dave Ursillo  02:47

So how exactly are consumer rights a form of civil rights? What does this expert have to say about what is really going on in the modern workplace? How did it get to be this way? Is it really as bad as it seems? And what can we possibly do to change it? Marta, welcome to The New Story Is and thank you so much for joining us today. 

Marta Tellado  03:08

Well, thank you, Dave, it’s a pleasure to join you as well.

Dave Ursillo  03:12

Your book Marta empowers consumers to become the force behind change in the consumer marketplace in ways that our small and personal individual, but in ways that also may reach far and become system why but readers may be interested when they open your book on the first page, in fact, the first sentence of the first page to learn the story of your family, including you at the age of two fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist Cuba in 1961. I wonder why was it important for your book, which is about consumer rights in the consumer marketplace to begin with this story of your family fleeing a repressive regime?

Marta Tellado  03:50

Well, thank you, I, as you say, the book opens with that story and my own personal journey. And as you say, my family fled Cuba in the early 60s. It was a very courageous act for my young parents was for children. But they were very determined. They were very determined to expose us to what it meant to grow up in a free and open society. And that choice they made really became the opening chapter in my life. I think emerging in an authoritarian an emerging authoritarian regime is marked by unrelenting surveillance and constant observation, indoctrination, mistrust, and the inability to make a future of your own choosing. And so my life has really been committed to ensuring that my parents heartbreak because it wasn’t the to heartbreak picking up and leaving your homeland wouldn’t be in vain, and that I would make it count and to do all I could to make the country that they brought me to a place where both democratic freedoms and economic equity would coexist. And I opened it there. Because the irony is that today in the US so much of what my parents, hopes and dreams were around democracy around our marketplace is shifting, and it’s shifting rapidly. And it feels like the balance of power is moving away, moving away from people moving away from consumers. 

Marta Tellado  05:34

We’ve lost trust in our governing institutions. And the marketplace feels like an obstacle course. Why is it so hard to succeed? And to get ahead? What are the trips and traps that I’m not seeing that are not transparent to me? So I wrote. And then of course, you you see the changes in the marketplace, and some of the descriptors I used to describe what it was like, in an emerging authoritarian regime, you know, as much as we all love technology, and we do because it has made our lives just remarkable, and the touch of a finger, the connectivity of it, that sense of community. But there are there aspects to it that feel authoritarian, the scale, the size, the secrecy of how it operates. The size and the influence, and some of those methods defy the democratic values that were really planted within me very young. 

Marta Tellado  06:34

So I wrote the book, to really tell a larger story about our democracy, that that I think it can only flourish if we have a marketplace, that’s fair, that’s transparent and safe and just for everyone. And what I try to do in the book is really reveal what’s holding us back. And how we, as consumers is as mothers, daughters, fathers, aunts, Uncle Ken can create and be a force for change. And, and to me, I think that matters a great deal, because the Marketplace is where all of us go to fulfill our aspirations. And there’s a lot at stake.

Dave Ursillo  07:11

Yeah, when we zoom out and take into account everything that’s happening in the consumer marketplace today, it is really unsettling. We deal with things like shady location tracking apps on our phones, we don’t really know what they’re doing with our data. In some cases, or in many cases, we do know what they’re doing. And it’s pretty nefarious. We have so called Smart speakers in our homes that listen in on conversations and might shape what advertising we see when we’re browsing the internet. Unsafe and oftentimes, unregulated foods and health supplements, faulty products, algorithms that reinforced bias, and in some cases, outright racism.

Dave Ursillo  07:46

 Do you see this moment, Marta, socially, and politically as a particularly critical time for all of us as consumers to stand up for our rights and to fight back against this, this tide that you mentioned, which seems almost impossible to turn individually, is now the time for it.

Marta Tellado  08:06

I think there’s a tremendous amount at stake, and you’ve just rattled off sort of a hit list of some of the trips and traps. And I’m glad that you included some that aren’t in the digital world, because we have not licked some of those issues around safety, you know, basic, safe drinking water, for example, we can talk about that. So there’s a lot that we have to get our arms around. But, you know, I would say that we’ve, as I said earlier, we’ve we’ve lost trust in our governing institutions and and in faith in a marketplace, it seems to be working against us. And part of that comes from unchecked power and concentrated power that that puts very large companies, you know, first rather than people and so we are not in charge, and markets are treating us like commodities, right, through surveillance through the scams through the traps that you’ve rattled off. And I think, more importantly, the rules of the road that should be protecting us are very far behind these realities, right. There’s a new frontier of the marketplace. 

Marta Tellado  09:20

But we are trapped in some of those consumer protections and rights of the past. And we need to modernize those, we need to get out ahead of them, because we’re the ones that are suffering. So things are happening to us, instead of happening for us. And I think so much of the work we do is about giving you the individual tools, but also recognizing that we need rules that can also help us drive our own destiny. So then you get to the question of, you know, we need to rebuild trust. But we can’t do that without accountability and without transparency. 

Marta Tellado  09:57

And so we have to take action together to transform The way the market works to put people back at the center. And that’s something CR has been leading for for 85 years. The ground is shifting under feet. And there’s some complexities there. But but here we are, it is a moment. It’s a crossroads.

Dave Ursillo  10:16

Yeah. And Consumer Reports has been at this for 85 plus years. And I really want to ask you plenty of questions about what has changed specifically, in your in your work as the leader of Consumer Reports since 2014. Over the last eight or so years, there’s been so much movement in the marketplace, especially digitally, that we’ll get into shortly in our conversation. But But I love how you mentioned Marta, that putting people at the center of the marketplace is crucial for this moment that we’re in. And you also say that we can’t do that without rebuilding the trust that’s been lost in our institutions. This is trust can’t really be rebuilt without accountability, and transparency. 

Dave Ursillo  10:59

For those of us who may be surprised to hear the president and CEO of Consumer Reports, painting such a bleak picture about what’s going on in the consumer marketplace given or despite the fact really that we all live in this consumer marketplace. Every day, we’ve gotten used to our phones and devices and Internet browsers and ISPs basically, spying on us for the sake of profit. Could you tell us a little bit about how the rules that had come to protect consumers for decades in the United States are now failing us? Is the advent of the Internet solely to blame? Or are there other forces and factors at play?

Marta Tellado  11:33

Well, I think, I think, certainly, the internet, and the business model that fuels the growth of the internet is certainly the case. But I think I think there there there are many things, it’s not just digital products, it’s it’s also the the incredible rapid cycle of products, and the fact that they come and go so frequently, and and then you have the hardware, but then on top of the hardware, you have the software that’s coursing through all our products and into our lives and into our home. And, and so it’s it’s a very different landscape. The digital world certainly has enveloped and even overcome the analog world. And that pace is only getting faster, you know, the, the urgency is because technology isn’t going to wait for us. Right? 

Marta Tellado  12:26

consumer protections and rights are not keeping pace, and we’re falling further and further behind. And and then you have you know, Consumer Reports has always been a champion of competition, and making sure that corporate power and consumer power strikes a balance, that that is an important tension, right to be that watchdog and to have real teeth so that we experience that balance and that opportunity in the marketplace. But corporate power has also started to grow and to consolidate. And unfortunately, our government leaders have shifted further away from prioritizing people’s needs. 

Marta Tellado  13:06

And their inaction is really a vote of confidence on the corporate side, right, that’s not a solution. And so all of this, I think it hurts consumers individually, companies, as you say, are collecting and misusing our personal data. There are predatory financial tricks and traps, that are finding families in a whirlpool of debt, whether that be college loans, or, you know, we certainly experienced the mortgage fiasco. But there are plenty of examples out there of predatory lenders that prey on families, the most needy families. And then of course, we count on the food and the products that we bring into our home not to endanger our families. 

Marta Tellado  13:50

And so we continue to do the testing and the reporting around basic food and safety, whether it’s heavy metals in baby juice and cereal, and as I mentioned earlier water so but it’s not too late to change. Right? We’ve we’ve been here before the book is really an attempt to awaken the sleeping giant that we are that that in a market, you have supply and demand and we represent demand, they cannot succeed without us going to the marketplace every day, to try to solve the issues that we are charged. So it really is about reaching back and growing a new kind of consumer power for this new world and making sure that we’re able with that power to hold both companies and government accountable. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to ensure that we’re drivers of our own destiny. Like who who is going to hand us that power. We’re going to have to demand it.

Dave Ursillo  14:51

Tech’s big four, which is how many refer to four companies, in particular Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. Who featured prominently throughout your book and and I should say in a rather unflattering light, which probably won’t surprise many of our regular listeners to the show. These tech companies, among others, like Microsoft, which may be considered like the fifth out of the Big Four, who have a hand in data protection and privacy or lack thereof, have really commodified our attention spans, as you say in the book. 

Dave Ursillo  15:21

And they’ve turned our personal information and our private data into a highly profitable system of targeted advertising that spans all across the Internet and everything that has that touches the internet, really. And you say these companies specifically, and this is a quote, We can’t trust them. What have your experiences, as the leader of Consumer Reports, since 2014, in particular, affirm to you about why these companies can’t be trusted?

Marta Tellado  15:50

Well, it’s a great question. And I’ll just add a little out, I’ll look back only to look forward. And that’s to say that I want to remind everyone that’s listening about the genesis of Consumer Reports in 1936. It actually came about in the with the rise of the advertising, Madison Avenue. Madmen generation, right where were people were getting scammed left and right. And it was a way to keep the marketplace honest. So it’s sort of it is in our DNA to be questioning to be investigating to be sussing out and making sure that consumers are getting a fair transparent, opportunity and value when they go to the marketplace. But to your question, how can we trust the current, you know, the big four the big giants? Well, there’s so much power in the hands of so few companies, right, that that really already begins to raise a questions about transparency and accountability. And we already know that self policing doesn’t work, we see no evidence of that. And remember, the advertising and the PR around the emergence of the Internet, which was very exciting. And it was sort of the dawn of this incredible, benevolent source of information that was going to be at your fingertips. Right? It was a source of good. But it hasn’t really mapped out that way. 

Marta Tellado  17:20

And so and so when you think about the concentration of power, how do you hold that much power accountable? When think about this, as an example, when and this just happened this weekend, a fine was given to meta formally Facebook of over $400 million in Europe, they have much stronger privacy rules than we do, because they violated a privacy setting for children, right, that they think was against their law. Now, okay, $400 million, they have a market cap of 562 billion. It sounds like the cost of doing business, it doesn’t really sound like accountability. So how do you also hold them accountable when there’s little to no transparency about those algorithms that dictate winners and losers? And the data is proprietary. How odd is that when the data is mostly harvested by us and by our behaviors in our in our consumption? And then as I keep going back to where are the checks and balances? How do you keep up with these new business models?

Marta Tellado  18:32

Who is who is making sure that we keep them honest. And so you know, you have to create positive incentives that ensures that the products on the market are safe for you and your children, that they’re not legal scams or medical misinformation, without those rules. And without that transparency. They’re left there, they are exactly left to self police. But the big question is we as a society, we have not weighed in yet on what is ethical, what is lawful behavior for these giants. They’ve created the roadmap. It’s a plan. It’s a business model. But it is creeping into many of the rights and opportunities that the market has always provided. Now I will give you a couple of examples about what you what car has learned. From our vantage point, as you say, it’s a very unique vantage point given the journalism, the investigation, the science based testing. So I’ll just give you a couple examples. 

Marta Tellado  19:37

Unless you what we’ve learned is that unless you create a standard for the privacy of connected products, companies aren’t going to pry a prioritize that we know that so there is no current standard for privacy. So we started we created one we said okay, these are the things you have to own the data you have to be transparent about how the controls work. And we rated smart TVs, we’ve been rating apps as well. Soon as we started doing that, we started getting calls from manufacturers saying, well help us walk us through some of these privacy standards, we’d like to make sure that we’re considered in. So we you, you raise a bar, and the market comes to the bar. Now, of course, they come because we represent millions of consumers, and they care about what this community of consumers says. But unless you create that standard, consumers have no way of going to the market, deciding, I’m gonna buy this TV, because it’s not recording what my family is talking about, as we’re watching TV, I don’t want it watching me, we’re buying it because we’re gonna watch it. Same thing with algorithms, we, what we’ve learned is that the algorithms were supposed to be a wonderful, unbiased way to make decisions about all manner of things. 

Marta Tellado  21:00

And what we’ve learned is that algorithms, you know, code is it’s, it’s a human construction, right? It is transferring the bias of those who are coding into the algorithms that are not transparent to us. So that’s how we know that went. So when you kind of reinvent reverse engineering, you see that car insurance, sometimes is based on your zip code, not on your driving experience, even medical transplants, there are certain racial adjustments made to the algorithm that prevent certain people of color from actually getting in the queue. And then, of course, the predatory lenders. Now, we could go on and on about the misinformation, right. And I’ll just close by saying during COVID, we generated some very false advice for consumers, to submit to Facebook to see if they if they would if it would make it through their vetting process. Well, it certainly did. And these were obvious, these were like drink, bleach, don’t wear a mask. And of course, we call it to their attention and said, We’re pulling these because we can’t believe you’re about to approve that they belong on the internet. But they do. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for us. 

Marta Tellado  22:24

So I think, I think those are some of the things we learn all the time about, in the course of our work, which, but there’s hope there, right, you’ve got to create standards, you create those standards. And many in the market are smart, they want consumers to buy those products. So let’s let’s create a race to those better standards that work for us, not against us.

Dave Ursillo  22:48

Consumer Reports under your leadership, Martha has created something that I’m personally, the nerd in me is very excited by called the Digital standard. And as I understand it, the digital standard is something that Consumer Reports created as an open source set of benchmarks. So it’s free, it’s available to the public. And it’s designed to be used proactively by companies and organizations who design digital products, in particular, to be more conscious and respectful of consumers digital rights as they design the product. And I feel like this is a great example of how Consumer Reports is trying to turn that tide we talked about earlier, and also to confront the fact that being purely reactive, always being the ones on the backfoot always being the ones who have to respond when things are already going wrong, is kind of a fool’s errand. I see this as a way for Consumer Reports and for consumer advocacy, to get out on the front foot, so to speak, and to start to dictate suggest demand that standards live up to a certain expectation, rather than demanding it after the fact to have that right.

Marta Tellado  23:55

Well, well, that’s exactly it, dare you. You can’t say it better than that, except to give you another example to even give you more color to that. So you’re right, we the digital standard is exactly what I’ve been talking about. none exists. But we don’t have to sit back if you have millions of consumers that are part of a community that can that can demand and power an organization such as ours, to be able to pursue that. It can shape marketplace. We are at a moment right now in history where our government is at loggerheads. And so there isn’t a lot that I can, you know, say about how do you move forward so, so but but in the absence of of a mandate, or of a life saving, you know, regulation for a child product, we have seen things the digital standard does have impact in terms of some of the privacy that it’s generated and connected tools, but it also works when you think about cars and that’s a big sweet spot. Ross and many people know us as being a leader in helping them navigate their their cars, but also road safety and car safety. 

Marta Tellado  25:08

So if you go back on the time machine, you think about, well, how did seatbelts ever get into cars? Well, they were the technology of the moment to save your life. But they weren’t standard. And they weren’t mandatory. We had to fight for that. And we finally won that battle. So what’s the next frontier on that? Well, there is no law that says that all of that wonderful new life saving. And now we know it’s life saving, because we have enough data to prove it. That the Forward Collision Warning, blind spot warning, all of those new technologies do save lives. But there’s no law requiring that all manufacturers and all models have to make them standard. So I don’t know about you, but when did saving a life become a luxury item? Because you can afford one car versus another? So here’s one thing we did, we said to the car manufacturers, if you want to be part of our annual Top 10 rated cars, we’d like to give you extra points. If you make that standard. Well, the market started shifting, you raise the bar. And it makes sense for a company that’s looking for consumers, and that wants to shop their wares in a positive light. 

Marta Tellado  26:27

So yes, we need standards. Yes, we need to enforce them and have rules. But it doesn’t mean we have to win. We have consumer power. And we’ve got millions of consumers standing with us, we can make these things happen.

Dave Ursillo  26:40

Yeah, I think that makes a nice segue, Marta, because it’s important to remember that there’s reasons for hope. We spent a lot of this conversation kind of setting the stage zooming out, taking the big picture, creating context for what’s going on in the consumer marketplace That is really negative, adverse, unwanted. I think it’s important to kind of deconstruct what the story is how our expectations of what’s going on. As consumers serves us today. We know we started this conversation talking about devices listening to us. And I feel like a lot of the time when mentioning that in conversations with people, the answer is kind of like apathy or indifference. Because there’s not an expert and understanding maybe of what could be different. How do we make it different. And you say in your book, as you just answered here, that there are a lot of reasons to still be hopeful that when we look back even to recent history, we can see how things can change really significantly, when consumer awareness and voice are put behind action and demands of those who are either making decisions on a governmental level, or producing these products and services at a consumer level. So I want to ask you about this idea of what you call a consumer first marketplace. 

Dave Ursillo  27:55

At the end of your book, you paint the picture of what it would look and feel like to wake up one day in this what you call a consumer first marketplace, and do all those things that a lot of us do first thing in the morning, grab our phones, see our messages, check the email, check social media, and how a consumer first marketplace experience will be different than it is now. Could you tell us what a consumer first marketplace is? How we can as consumers start to demand a consumer play, excuse me a consumer first marketplace, and what it would look like to live in a consumer first marketplace that we may be unfamiliar with hearing now today.

Marta Tellado  28:39

Absolutely. And I love that the opening and close of that sort of imagination, exercise spoke to you because we do these, these technologies, these companies are so dominant, that we have to create that imagination, it’s not going to they’re making it appear as if there was no other path except the one that they’ve created and put before us. And that’s just simply not true. Because a consumer first marketplace is one where each person can be the driver of their own destiny. And the burden, right, this is important, the burden is not on us. Alright, to to to kind of avoid the obstacles in the course. And so, you know, as you said early on, we do an enormous amount of survey research. And we talked to so many Americans, from all walks of life about all these issues, and we consistently hear the same things. And I think this speaks to what what a consumer first economy would look like. They want a life for their kids and their families. It’s safe in the real world. Right bringing a maybe it’s an infant sleeper into your home as well as on the online world. They want a life where they’re Family can actually trust the information, the products and the services they receive without feeling like they’ve been victimized by scam because somehow they missed the fine print. And the fine print, by the way, is legal. And so there’s really no recourse. They also want a life where they have genuine opportunity to get a loan for an education, that doesn’t spin them into a whirlpool of debt, where they can take out a protection policy for their car. And they can also find long term care insurance for their parents without finding out that that it again, was had no cash value and was impossible to get the the care that they needed. And also where your privacy and your personal data aren’t for sale, because your devices are private by default. Right? They’ve we’ve we are in a world now where we think our privacy is a setting. Well, it isn’t, it’s a right. 

Marta Tellado  31:05

And these products can be made and set by default to the privacy setting. And if you want to be in a marketplace where everyone’s tracking, by all means, you know, there are some some moments in instances where I’m searching for something and I want them to know I’m searching for it. So I get some some diversity of product. But I don’t want everyone to know where I am every minute of my day, or my or, or my nieces and nephews for that matter. And they also want to life where people from every community is treated fairly, whether they’re buying a home, whether they’re searching for a job, and, and that goes for being treated fairly, regardless of the color of your skin, or your ethnicity. And I think all of us want the freedom to make choices, make choices that are right for us. And that can be a determinant of our own future. Because as I said earlier, the Marketplace is where we all go to fulfill those aspirations, right? Without me finding that ability to get higher education, I wouldn’t be talking with you today. So putting people back at the center, where it offers a safety, trust, opportunity, fairness, and freedom. That’s what makes the life that I think everybody wants possible. 

Marta Tellado  32:29

So if you have rules that are fair, if you have incentives that are positive, right, they’re incentivizing positive behavior for people to reach the goals in their life and where you have leaders in business and government that are being held accountable for their either action or inaction, then we can start to think about creating a marketplace and a democracy that works for everyone. And it isn’t easy, right? It takes an enormous amount of work. And that’s why I’m so proud to lead this organization because we have been working with him for consumers for 86 years. But I think the only way that we can have the power that we have, is because I think both government and corporations know that consumers are a sleeping giant. And once you activate them, their behavior needs to change. The book Buyer Aware is really a playbook for how we can use that power in our own lives and in our communities. So that we see the change that we hear so many Americans who we speak to talk about.

Dave Ursillo  33:37

Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned what makes Consumer Reports distinct as an organization and you and you mentioned in the brief history that you gave us about how Consumer Reports started at the advent of modern advertising during the you know, the so called Mad Men era of of New York City based advertising. I want to ask you about how Consumer Reports as an organization is different. What makes Consumer Reports different as a nonprofit organization. And as many of our listeners may know, the organization its its primary arm or outreach was through a very reputable magazine publication. 

Dave Ursillo  34:18

Under your leadership, Consumer Reports switched from a subscription based model to a membership based model. So now over 6 million members help to fund and support research and product reviews and consumer advocacy that we’ve been talking about today while also avoiding the need or the influence of advertisers or government funding or corporate donations, which ensure the organization to have this inherent impartiality and objectivity in its work. So how does Consumer Reports model everything that we’ve been talking about here and how it operates as an organization? 

Marta Tellado  34:56

Well, you’re right, we’ve been around a long time. and much has changed in the marketplace. It is a dynamic environment, it changes constantly. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is Consumer Reports mission, right? We tell you the truth, will put consumers first and at the center of what we do that that is our bias, right consumers and what is going to advance their ability to meet their aspirations in a marketplace. And you couldn’t be more, right we, it is not an easy thing to do. But we are people powered. And that means we don’t accept advertising. We remain committed to our mission. And the fact that we are people powered means we maintain our independence, we’re a nonprofit, all the money that comes to us from our products gets poured back into the organization to create new products, more relevant products for the marketplace of today. And so we continue to shine a light on the marketplace to hold companies accountable, to strengthen the consumer rights that we need for today’s economy. 

Marta Tellado  36:10

And many people know us for a lot of the rigorous testing we do of the products and services we have a lot of we’ve always had a strong engineering background, that becomes even more critical. in a digital age where the hardware is not just about kind of breaking open the hardware, you got to understand the software and the connectivity of these products and how and, you know, how much privacy are you really getting? So I think I think a lot of that is made possible, you know, the independence of because we also buy, we use those funds to buy all the products that we test, you know, we’re not giving any getting any freebies. So we spent about $30 million a year testing rating, reviewing about 9000 products and services. So when you see a recommended buy car, you have that sense of trust, right that that there are people who have been looking at this and trying to make selections for you. I will say however that because the marketplace has changed so much. We also are working on what I like to call upstream impact. And I talked about this a little bit in the book when when products and are constructed and there’s a rapid product cycle, you really by the time that product hits the market, it’s too late to tell the company that it’s not safe, or that it’s not really, that the value can be enhanced for consumers, you have to get out ahead of it. So we have to figure out new ways to be at the table of the design of products of the imagination that goes into them. And so we collect a lot of data some that is more interesting to consumers. But some that is also interesting to product developers that are looking at this. And so we’ve been holding webinars, we’ve created a new program that is really about how can we get ahead of products before they do the harm. 

Marta Tellado  38:11

Once they’re in the market, you’ve got to pull them back. And that’s hard to do. So we’re also experimenting a lot with what we what our members told us was that they like to have advice right at the point of sale, you know, gone are the days where you’re carrying your magazine around with you you want to know on a QR code when you see a product Hey, what do you think of this? So we we launched a product called CR recommended where you can do that. And and folks are taking advantage of that. So I’d like to say that, you know, we’re more than a magazine, right car isn’t just a magazine with a mission. We’re a mission with a magazine and many other things. And so we’re adjusting and trying to be where the consumer is, and creating partnerships, we’re going to see us on different platforms, because we want you to have the information. And we want you to understand how to connect to us, wherever you might be. So it’s it’s been a wonderful ride. 

Marta Tellado  39:15

There are such immensely talented people at Consumer Reports. And we we just have to continue to evolve just as the marketplace and consumers evolve. They’re very different consumers today are not the same consumers of our founding. It is a very diverse population. And we have to be in touch with the wants and needs and the harms across the consumers that we that really want to connect to.

Dave Ursillo  39:45

This has been such a fascinating conversation, Marta and I feel like I have 100 More questions that I want to ask you but but that I won’t ask you all today. But as we’re starting to round towards the bottom of our conversation here, I want to summarize and ask you one more question. To summarize, we’ve covered some really interesting ideas about how a consumer first economy seems to walk hand in hand with a healthy functioning democracy, which is something that’s on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds today. You said a couple of times that the Marketplace is where we go to fulfill our aspirations in life, which is an interesting thought that I’d never personally considered before. 

Dave Ursillo  40:22

And you’ve affirmed that consumers are driven by more of the same core beliefs and desires, like the desires for simple safety, for fairness, for equity, in everyday life, not just in the marketplace, but in how we experiencing life as a whole. And I’d say that one of your main thesis points in the book and an undercurrent throughout this conversation, is that you say consumer rights are our civil rights. So what would you like to leave our listeners with thinking about or something that they might do something you might encourage them to do after listening to this interview, bearing in mind that their rights as consumers are actually a part of their fundamental civil rights as Americans as as citizens as people who live in our country?

Marta Tellado  41:10

Well, thank you for for that question. It is absolutely one of the core themes, the notion of democracy and the economy, and then not forgetting the incredible role of civil rights, and that it is not done that there’s work to be done. So you’re right, a fair transparent market is essential to a fair democracy. So what do I mean when I say consumer rights or civil rights? Well, when you pay a different price for car insurance, because of your zip code, or the color of your skin, that’s about your civil rights, when you pay a premium, and I talk in the book about a pink tax of pink tax is a an extra cost that is tacked on to some products for women, even though those products are identical to the ones that are marketed for men. When you pay a pink tax, that is that is also about your civil rights. 

Marta Tellado  42:06

And as I said earlier, when you can’t get a kidney transplant, because there is a quote, unquote, race adjustment in the algorithm based on faulty science, that doesn’t get you in that queue that is about your civil rights. And when a product hurts you or your child, but you can’t hold that company accountable, because they tilted the rules against you. That’s about your civil rights. I think our economic freedom in the marketplace is a civil right. It isn’t distinct from consumer rights. And I just love this quote from a Philip Randolph. He’s a civil rights was a civil rights icon. But what many people don’t know is that he was one of the founding board members of Consumer Reports. And he liked to say that a community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful, already possess. 

Marta Tellado  43:05

Every day, our marketplace denies people economic power to function as equal members of our democracy. And that’s what I mean when I say consumer rights, or civil rights.

Dave Ursillo  43:17

Marta Tellado. She’s the president and CEO of Consumer Reports. Her new book is Buyer Aware, harnessing our consumer power for a safe, fair and transparent marketplace. Martha, thank you so much for all of your important work and advocacy throughout your career. And thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join us on The New Story Is it’s been such a pleasure.

Marta Tellado  43:38

Thank you. Thank you so much, Dave. And I’ll leave you with one more thought that I just can’t resist as I want to hear from your listeners. And they can, they can join the conversation and look at ways to get involved by coming to the companion website of the book, which is buyer aware.car.org. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Dave Ursillo  44:01

And thank you for listening to this episode of The New Story Is We hope you enjoyed what you heard today. We’ll be back soon with a new episode. In the meantime, share this episode with a friend or leave us a rating and review which goes a long way to helping other listeners find and enjoy our show. Until next time, I’m Dave Ursillo. This has been The New Story Is bye for now.

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