Everyone seems to agree that the purpose of the database is to assist consumers in understanding risks, and in making well-informed choices about products they buy and use. Indeed, in a recent article, an advocate for the database argued that folks should stop fighting about it and that “time would be better spent in ensuring it is as accurate and useful as possible.” At last, something we can all agree on!
My colleague, Commissioner Northup, and I agree that the database will be a useful tool for consumers only if it is accurate. We have spent hours debating this point with the other commissioners. On November 17, we will once again make the point that the database will not serve its purpose if it is a “garbage in/garbage out” grab bag of unsubstantiated complaints from any source.
With respect to the database, there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. Unfortunately, so far a majority of my colleagues have not chosen the right way. This is unfortunate because the approach insisted upon by the majority will not allow the database to achieve its objective. While there are a number of objectionable provisions in the draft final rule, here are two issues that are especially problematic:
- Who can submit complaints—Congress provided us with a list of those whose complaints should go up on the public database. We have contorted the plain language Congress used into definitions that have no meaning. For example, Congress told us to accept complaints from “consumers.” The majority has determined that since everyone consumes something, we need to accept complaints from everyone—no need for any relationship to the product, harm or incident. Think plaintiff lawyers trolling for clients or unscrupulous competitors wishing to harm a product’s reputation.
- Treatment of inaccurate information—Consumers are not served, and could be harmed, by a database with inaccurate information. While Congress seemed to suggest a process for correcting inaccuracies, the rule has been written so that the agency is under no obligation to address such misinformation. There is a real chance this could be a “post it and forget it” exercise.
Since Congress has been clear in its direction to establish a public database, let’s try to do it right. Commissioner Northup and I have redrafted the proposed rule to try to address the many issues that were raised in the comments the agency received. If you click here, you will be directed to that redrafted rule. Time is of the essence since the vote is in a little more than a week. Please quickly send back your reaction to this draft. Help us get it right. We intend to offer it as a substitute when the commission takes up this matter on November 17. Please send me your reaction to the proposal either post it here on the blog or email it to me at Commissioner_Nord@cpsc.gov