Consumer Product Safety Commission to Launch Complaint Disclosure Database

As reported in The Washington Post and other publications, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will launch an online database of the complaints it receives.  The CPSC regulates the safety of consumer products, and relies on sources ranging from consumer complaints to media reports to learn of potential product risks.  The database will be available by March 11, 2011, and complaints will be posted online 15 days after they are received. In the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Congress mandated that CPSC create a publicly available database of its consumer complaints.  The five-member CPSC Commission heard statements during a long public hearing process, and approved the database on a 3 - 2 vote on November 24, 2010.  The two dissenting Commissioners expressed concern of the database's potential to misinform the public, including:

  • The database will not disclose who made the claim, making it easy for special interest groups to submit misleading or faulty complaints.
  • Complaints should require more detailed information about each product (i.e. model numbers, location of purchase, etc.) to avoid generalizations.
  • Despite the established safeguards, alleged inaccuracies are likely to be entered into the database due to time constraints and lack of protocol.

However, the majority of Commissioners ruled that any potential for misuse of the database is outweighed by its benefit to consumers.  In a joint statement, the majority commissioners  said the database will increase ease of access to complaints and more quickly communicate warnings about potentially dangerous products.  Additionally, they stated it will increase CPSC efficiency by using technology to streamline the information the agency oversees.  Presentations from the public hearing are available online here, and the Commission's final decision with Commissioner statements can be found here.

The CPSC has always maintained this data, but, as with many government agencies, it has essentially been kept behind a wall and accessible only via a written FOIA request.  CPSC's action is part of a continuing move toward easing access to existing datasets.  Some of our other blog posts on this trend: