Marta Tellado of Consumer Reports – Our Privacy is a Setting, and it Needs to be a Right – Transcript

Kirk Brown: [00:00:00] Welcome to, let’s Hear It. Let’s Hear. It

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So on a rainy [00:01:00] day. Eric Brown,

Eric Brown: welcome in. We are recording from the Bible . I’ve got where the 40 day flood continues, and I heard actually that there were goats in the street in San Francisco. So I, I don’t think there’s anything about goats falling from the sky and the Bible, but might as

Kirk Brown: well, I’m not surprised.

Hopefully you’ve got your life raft, your arc, your supplies, . I saw a post, I saw a post that you should have two weeks of supplies ready for the two inches of rain

Eric Brown: that are about to fall. All I can say is I have more than two weeks worth of wine down in the in the basement. That’s all you

Kirk Brown: need.

You’re gonna, you’re gonna make it, you’re gonna make it out just fine. Okay, . So what

Eric Brown: if it, if it never stops raining, I will be fine. Once again,

Kirk Brown: we’ve got a good one. Tell us who we’re about to hear

Eric Brown: from. I spoke with my old pal, Marta Tellado, who is the president and c e o of Consumer Reports, you know them?

America’s foremost consumer organization, and she is the author of a new book. It’s been book, book time here. It’s, it’s a book show. Her book is called [00:02:00] Buyer Aware, harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, fair, and Transparent Marketplace. And so , first of all, Kirk, we never speak unless we’re talking to each other online here, right?

It’s, it’s like a hot mic, the world’s most boring version of Big Brother, where our, our friendship is broadcast for the world. And I didn’t wanna speak to you first because this is a book that touches every one of the nerves in your body about disinformation and misinformation and, and all that stuff.

And this is what’s known as Ed Trigger A Bad Time. . I’ve

Kirk Brown: never been happier, I’ve never been more ready, I’ve never been more ready for this conversation.

Eric Brown: That’s up, that your head stays attached to the rest of your body. , when we

Kirk Brown: talk about this after this is so exciting. So this is Marta to Lato on. Let’s hear it.

You can find Marta at MLTellado on Twitter. And I just wanna say the [00:03:00] name of the book again because I love the turn of phrase here. Buyer aware. Harnessing our consumer power for a safe, fair, and transparent marketplace. Marta, thank. Such important work. Let’s listen and then we’ll come back.

Eric Brown: Welcome to, let’s Hear It.

My guest today is Marta Tellado, the president and CEO of Consumer Reports, America’s foremost consumer organization and the author of a really, really terrific new book, buyer Aware, harnessing our Consumer Power for a safe, fair, and transparent Marketplace. And won’t that be nice when we get there and, and if we do, it’ll be because of you, Marta, I think, and an old pal, and it’s just a delight to see you again.

It’s been a minute as the kids say. Marta, thank you so much for coming on.

Marta Tellado: Oh, it’s great to see and hear you again, Eric. It’s great to be on

Eric Brown: with you. Oh, and I failed to mention a fellow Mets fan.

Marta Tellado: [00:04:00] Absolutely die hard. Hardcore Mets are fine. These finally good times

Eric Brown: for the Mets. Yes, . So anyway, first of all, when you were named President, c e o of Consumer Reports, I thought, huh, there’s a board of directors with some vision.

Because my guess is that your background was not a typical resume of a consumer report CEO. Can you talk about how you got from there to here?

Marta Tellado: Oh, that’s a great story. , and I don’t know what a typical resume is, but in the nonprofit world, right, it’s changing so rapidly and, and what a lot of people don’t know is that Consumer Reports is a social enterprise.

So it’s actually all my revenue. Most of ’em are 90% of my revenues earned, right? I’ve gotta get members to come and be a part of this community and support what we do. And, and we’re not a, a private publishing company, but you’re right, I was at the Ford Foundation and before that I was in government service.

And I think the through line of all of that [00:05:00] is, you know, my own passion for wanting to make a difference, wanting to give back wanting to, you know, make the world a better place. And whether that’s government legislation or philanthropic dollars going to really impactful, extraordinary individuals and organizations or a marketplace.

That’s fair and just for everyone. So, but, but to your question, Very deep, deep in my resume. is,

Eric Brown: is an internship. In every

Marta Tellado: resume there’s an internship, but this one was pr. I guess this one was pretty transformative because my very first engagement at a college was working in Washington for Public Citizen, which was the foremost consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader.

I was just a kid and that’s how I cut my teeth. That was my introduction to power and politics and legislation and the power of the marketplace and what economic freedom can do if it’s fair. And, and when I came knocking, when I was at [00:06:00] the Fort Foundation, I was really taken by that. I thought coming full circle and coming back to this and, and being in a very different space that is mainstream and that is reaching such a broad swath of people.

Eric Brown: Yeah, and I think I read, I think it’s in your book, but it, it’s somewhere where you say, you, you, you’re going from being a magazine with a mission to being a mission with a magazine. And when you went over to Consumer Reports, I thought to myself, ah, how interesting. I know that Consumer Reports always been a, used to be called Consumers Union, an advocacy organization, but I could see how you could take what you gathered over the years working for Bill Bradley and the Senate and certainly working at Ford, where you see the power of movements and you see the power of kind of the nonprofit world to bring about change and bringing that together to.

To this organization, which also has these incredible tools. You can actually, I, I assume somebody tested the microphone that you are speaking to me, , [00:07:00] like, that seems like almost like a, a, a potpourri of opportunity. How did you first think about applying this, your great career with this enormous set of assets?


Marta Tellado: the, the beauty of consumer reports is that it has been around since 1936. And funny, you know, Ford Foundation was founded in 1936, and that didn’t get lost on me because at Ford it was also about reinvention. You know, when you’re an organization that’s had such a trailblazing history, you have to continually reinvent yourself.

And that was really exciting to me that the marketplace is constantly changing. It’s dynamic. There are challenges that change every day for consumers. And the thought of, of coming to this organization, you know, and for a while, you know, every, everybody wants to be a startup. You know, I’m gonna have a startup and that’s great.

But there is an ecosystem of organizations that were found. [00:08:00] Many years ago, decades ago, that still have purchase in today’s society and economy. And, and I believed Consumer Reports was one of those, but it, we needed to come, come to this organization with a sense of how do you stand on the shoulders of the great founders and visionaries that decided we’re gonna try to hold the market accountable and we’re gonna try to hold not just the, the market, but also public sector actors accountable so that they can put consumers before profits in the marketplace.

And I, there’s so much going on in the marketplace, this was the time to come back and to really create that new relevancy for consumers in this,

Eric Brown: in this moment. Well, I don’t often quote Donald Rumsfeld, but it feels to me like this is a target rich environment right now, . I, so I was thinking back at the, at those.

Books or the things that launched consumer revolutions, and you mentioned them in the book as well, the Jungle Up in Sinclair’s book, silence [00:09:00] Spring by Rachel Carson. Unsafe at any speed, of course, by your former boss of sorts, Ralph Nader. Those are three I that you, that come to mind in, in a hundred years, and it feels to me like these big consumer movements are few and far between.

They’re really hard to unlock. What do you think the, the conditions are for that kind of real transformation? Because it’s obvious from, from what you’ve written and what you know if you have eyeballs that we’re in need of one.

Marta Tellado: It’s a great question and it, you put your finger on something I, I try to wrestle with in BioWare and that is that.

Consumer issues are, are really everybody’s issues. We have a, an ecosystem of organizations that work on human rights, that work on women’s rights, that work on civil rights in the marketplace. It’s all of that, you know, and, and you know, I I think one of the things that we’ve done is, you know, over the [00:10:00] years, sometimes we isolate ourselves and we talk about consumer rights as if it were something d separate from sort of economic rights or digital rights or women’s rights when we are discriminated against in the marketplace, that the marketplace is sort of our unit of analysis.

It is all those things. And it has been as much about us. Working with other partners as it is about, you know throwing our hands up and saying, we’re all about that. Well, wait a minute, who else can we work with? How do we partner? You know, in the past, you know, we were in our white lab coats, in our labs and this is what we’re doing and it’s, well, now it’s open source.

How do you begin to opine about a digital world if you’re not open about the standards and transparent about how you’re holding them accountable? So it’s a, it’s a different way. And, and think about what also has changed in terms of the products that are out there. We’re going through this rapid product cycle innovation.

By the time the product comes out and we dig it, they’re onto the next cycle. And, and [00:11:00] so what, how do you hold those kinds of products and services accountable? So I, I think to answer your question, consumer rights have to be seen. And, and I, there’s a chapter in a book where I say consumer rights are civil rights.

Right. And it’s, you know when our economic power in our agency are undermined, so is our, our, our democratic rights. And, and I I think, I think making that connection is, is, is absolutely critical. .

Eric Brown: Well, so this is funny because my, my partner on the show, Kirk Brown, always says There’s the 20 minute moment where at 20 minutes into the interview we’ve, we get to the nub of it.

I think we can hit the 20 minute moment at minute nine here, because that was my takeaway from the book, which is that this is really a question of democracy. Early on, you say Consumers are a sleeping giant. We, we outnumber them and the, them being the four large tech companies that you reference, which I’m gonna remember, it’s Amazon, [00:12:00] apple, Google, and Facebook.

Mm-hmm. now meta with a little nod. With a little nod to Microsoft, which is lurking around out there, but that we certainly outnumber them. But the idea of trying to coalesce the power of consumers. As, as you say, kind of the citizenry is a real challenge when it is so easy to drive wedges between us because we want a cheaper, I wanna get my, a new mouse tomorrow, so I order it from Amazon today, or I want one in four hours, which I could also do.

So that seems like a, a, a challenge, but also the power in those kinds of large consumer movements is evident when they happen. Although they’re hard, they’re hard to do. So then the, this is a very long question, , but the question is how, like, is it necessary to somehow finally activate a true democracy in order to get this kind of movement?

Or can you do it through the lens of, of consumers as a, as an entity that can actually exert its. [00:13:00]

Marta Tellado: When you referenced those three books, right? We didn’t get a revolution after that. But you got awareness. We were arrested out of our slumber in our complacency, and we said, no, we didn’t want these toxic chemicals in our environment.

No, we didn’t want our meat processing plants to, you know, have strange things floating around. So, so then, then you start to demand the kind of standards and guidelines and rules and regulations, but you need awareness. One of the things about the book is, yeah, I talk a lot about democracy and about how it is a long, it is a, I try to tell a larger story about democracy, that you can only have a democracy that’s thriving if you have a fair and open and transparent.

An equitable marketplace that those things go hand in hand. But the reality is every day, you know, so think about it, you’re in the, you go to the polling booth maybe three, four times a year. You’re in the marketplace every single day for small as well as large consequential purchases. [00:14:00] And I think at the end of every chapter, while I talk about these really big themes like democracy, you also have to make decisions.

I, I, I offer a lot of really practic. Pieces of advice. You know, you don’t have to be complacent just because this is what you’re seeing in the marketplace. Here’s the way you execute some caution. But here’s a decision you can make on, on just everyday things like checking your credit score because that’s determining what kind of a loan you get, what kind of a premium you pay on things.

And what you don’t realize is that you, you do have some control over that. You don’t have to get one of these apps that are really just trying to sell you things and collect data about you to sell you more and to upsell you. So you have to do both. You have to think of the big issues, but you also have to think about everyday practical ways that you can navigate what is an obstacle course of a marketplace for average consumers.

Eric Brown: And I’m gonna throw in a quick plug for buyer, which is that thing. It’s [00:15:00] at the very least, a one-stop shop for trying to navigate the landmines of consumer. Culture and who we are as, as individuals. That’s our data. It’s credit, it’s all of lots and lots and lots of really good tips and tricks on, on there.

Which re reminds me that for a, a reasonably activated, reasonably conscious consumer, these are great things to do. It’s a little, even then it’s a little daunting. And yet there’s so much that lots of folks can do. But it also feels to me like you’re trying to a advocate for people who may not have that facility.

Older people. You even talk about your own dad in the book didn’t have the tools to do the, be the kind of consumer that really, really smart consumer that, that some people have the tools to be. So it, it feels like you’re, you’re working in two tracks here. One is you’re trying to change systems, but, and at the same time provide pact practical information.

Where do you see those things converging? [00:16:00]

Marta Tellado: Right now, all the burden is on us. on consumers. That shouldn’t be the case. You’re right. My dad couldn’t navigate something. He stopped taking his medication because he saw an ad that he felt was a factual document and it, and it wasn’t. And, and, and that’s what you don’t realize.

The whole, these platforms are in fact advertising platforms right now. The burden is on us to make sure all of our devices are secure, that we triangulate and try to figure out what’s true, what’s not true. And it doesn’t have to be that way, but we have to demand that. And it’s not gonna happen unless we demand our privacy, unless we demand that our devices, you know what, what we realize now is that our privacy is a setting as, as opposed to a right.

Then we have to actually go into every device. Now we, you could do that by going to see our security planner. It’s, it’s there, it’s free to everyone. You have to go through all of your devices, turn things on and off. Geolocating tracking all of that. [00:17:00] But, We can have a different kind of digital. Reality one that is, you know, fair, but that, that is transparent by design.

That’s privacy by design. And so those are the ways that we can advocate. And what we’ve always done is, you know, we, we test and rate these products to really create a race to the top. So that you are as a consumer you, you can make those choices, but it’s not just choice, right? Because all of the protections and the rights that we were so successful in, in the analog world, in the hard world, they don’t translate into the digital world.

It’s the wild west. There are no standards and no ethical standards of behavior for how much data is collected from you, Eric, and by what products and who it’s sold to. And so we, we have to do both. We have to make those choices, but as a society, we have to have a conversation and we have to make some choices about the standards and the guidelines that we have.

And so one of the things I had to do when I got the consumer [00:18:00] reports is create those capabilities and create standards where none exists, so that we could start testing the Internet of things, products, and say, this television, it’s hackable. It’s watching you, it’s tracking you. This one is well, we’ll do a better job.

of protecting your privacy and starting to create that race at the top. And as soon as we put out those TV ratings on privacy, we started getting calls from, from the manufacturers saying, well, what do I need to do to get this? Because if you wait around for the legislation, which we know is happening at a snail’s pace, you’re not gonna see that change.

So I think when you have the scale that you do with consumer reports, you’ve got millions of people who are members, you have a voice, you can activate that voice. You can begin to incentivize the marketplace in ways that I found it was harder to do in smaller bespoke. You know, organizations that are also fighting for things.

So, so I think, I think that’s a great value. And, and sometimes [00:19:00] it’s not about testing, it’s about investigating. When we did the investigation on car insurance, right, you think your car insurance is, you know, you didn’t get into that fender bender, you’re a good driver. But in fact, it has more to do with the data they collect about you.

That has nothing to do with your driving. That has everything to do with the fact that you live in a white neighborhood and somebody else who lives in a black neighborhood and an adjacent same risk profile is paying more. So, th those are the kinds of issues that, you know, are at the forefront and, and the reasons what we investigate and do what we do.

We’re gonna

Eric Brown: take a quick break and be back to talk more about the book, which reads a little bit like a Tom Clancy thriller to me. And then I also wanna ask you about whether my wife’s phone is, is listening to her. So we’ll be right back after this break. You’re listening to, let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and non-profit communications hosted by Kirk Brown and Eric Brown.

Let’s hear. It is sponsored by the Communications Network, which connects, gathers, and informs the field of leaders working in communications for good. Because foundations and nonprofits that [00:20:00] communicate well are stronger, smarter, and vastly more effective. You can find, let’s hear it online at or on Twitter @Let’sHearItCast.

Thanks for listening. And now back to the show. And we are back with Marta Tellado, the president and CEO of Consumer Reports, and my old friend, and this is such a great conversation I said before the break, your book is a little bit to me like a Tom Clancy thriller right now as we record this. It’s dry January.

I needed a stiff drink because you have chapters on data privacy, misinformation, credit, and lending and financial fairness, which was, which was challenging. Artificial intelligence and bias. And now that the chatbot is out, I’m sure that you have some thoughts about that. And then consumer safety. So these are all areas in which, the way I see it is that if you have incomplete information, then the people who are programming the systems have an advantage over you.

And, [00:21:00] and that’s, it feels to me like that is the moment that we are in because we are not fully up to speed on as consumers on all of those pitfalls that you articulate in the book. And the folks who created these systems are way ahead of us. And what, what it feels to me like you’re offering is an opportunity for us to at least learn about what we don’t know so that we can begin to push back against it.

And that happens in the form of consumer action and in the form of legislation and regulation and things like that. Does that seem right to you? Is that, is that where we are is is that we have the opportunity

Marta Tellado: to, now that seems like you, it seems like you’ve read the book Eric. Absolutely. .

Eric Brown: I I did. And without the benefit of sidecar to keep me, you know, braced while I was doing it.

But it also feels to me like, as you say, there are opportunities to begin to level this thing out, to ensure that there is accountability in our system. Data privacy [00:22:00] feels to me, like right now, one of the, one of the scarier, like if you take data privacy and artificial intelligence and you put them together, you could come up with a monster that messes everything up.

And, and that gets to my question is, is my wife’s phone listening to her? We , she , she thinks we have a conversation and then she gets an ad for something. Is that just a coincidence or are, are they so tuned in to what my wife is clicking on on Instagram that is so easy to market to her? Yes,

Marta Tellado: yes. And yes.

All of our devices are sitting on platforms that whose business model is all about advertising. And so, yes. And, and when you’re getting access to all these things that are free, that’s your clue to say, to know that you’re the product , because things are not free. And, and so the da and the data that, that’s being collected, so yeah, I think that’s right.

And, and what you describe in terms of the world of algorithms, right? Algorithms, well, well first let me just say these are, we’ve sacrificed a lot for something called convenience. It doesn’t [00:23:00] have to be that way, right? These, these tools can be wired in a different way. But that’s something we’re gonna have to demand and, and algorithms or just decision making tools, right?

It, it, it’s code, it’s it’s data. They’re only as good as the data that gets poured into them. And the folks who code and use that data also are subject to their own bias. and that, you know, it’s why I say there’s bias in bias out. We thought that in a world of algorithms there would be no bias, that there would be no human engagement or interaction, but bad data re creates bad outcomes.

And I think we’re starting to see the tide change a little. I think the bloom is off. The rose of what we were told was this great benevolent thing called the internet where all things were gonna be a available to us and accessible to us. And, and, and now we learned that it, it’s just not quite the case.

So I, I think, I think that’s right. And, and the companies are so big and the competition has been so choked. How do you keep [00:24:00] a company that has such an incredible market cap accountable when the fine is just, Sort of a slap on the wrist. It’s sort of the cost of doing business. So we, we have some consumer champions now leading up some of these agencies.

I’m hopeful we have to sort of keep the pressure on to see what happens. But, but yes we’re all about competition and, and as a democracy, we should wanna see that. We should wanna see a lot of that market opportunity. Hard to do when you’ve just got the big four, choking a lot of, of that competition.

Eric Brown: I wanna talk a little bit, since many of our listeners work at nonprofits or foundations, I’d like to talk about how you partner, because you mentioned early, early on, isn’t that the sort of thing that you would do alone? And there are so many issues embedded in the chapters of your book that have to do with race and class and justice equity.

That many of the funders who have deep commitments to these issues among others environment. You, [00:25:00] I, I could go on. Of course. I don’t think we think about people in terms of their consumer activities, which do represent the vast voting that they do and the vast expressions of themselves as citizens. And h how do you see strengthening that understanding among nonprofits and foundations that here are other opportunities for them to engage in advocacy and to ensure that issues that are really important get the power that they’re capable of?

Marta Tellado: I’ve spent a lot of my time in conversation, especially with, with the large philanthropies and, and some have really stepped up and, and, and really do connect the power of the marketplace and recognize the reach and how we have to begin to play and sit down with corporate America. We have to, we have to be in the room.

We have to make that conversation happen. We have to recognize that there, if you wait for government mandates, you know, a lot of damage is being done. There’s a lot of damage. But in terms of partnership, we, [00:26:00] we have done a number of partnerships. We have partnered with Color of Change on a variety of things having to do with Facebook and, and, and and discriminatory practices there.

We, we’ve also ProPublica, we did our investigation on car insurance by partner with ProPublica. We did the data search. We scraped the data. We looked at that. They did the reporting. We did an incredible national water testing effort where we empowered 150 communities across the country with tap water testing kits.

They took that, and then we had the Guardian do a series of what we. because it’s not about just having it and owning it yourself. It’s about making sure that the information is disseminated in the broadest fashion to the widest audience, to the audience that needs to know about this. So I, I think it’s that multiplier effect.

And I, I think we, we, as a part of the nonprofit community and some of these outreach efforts, I think folks are, are really seeing the value of that and that we could [00:27:00] use the power of the data that we collect. And a lot of people don’t know is that we survey millions of consumers every year and have our finger on the pulse of where the harms are and, and how they’re experiencing that.

And that data can also be a foundational for other organizations that are working to make change happen. So I think that that’s what I mean by partnering and letting some of those walls down and saying, let’s make change. And, and, and the book talks a lot about, and so does this, the site of the book a lot of other organizations that you could go to when we tried to get the Sturdy Act passed just to the end of last year, this is about furniture that’s so poorly made.

It’s hazardous to the kids who live there and hundreds have died because of furniture Falls on top of a toddler. And parents Against Tip Overs. A a group of parents banded together and created their own nonprofit and we advocated together with those parents raising our voices to great effect. So it, [00:28:00] it’s that kind of reaching across issues that we think we can add value and, and raise consumer voices is, is really what we’ve always done.

But now I think the water testing showed us that we can also empower and give people agency by being part of that evaluation and testing process. ,

Eric Brown: where do you see the next real opportunity? What, what’s the first thing you think about when you get to the office, the real or virtual office that, that you think that here’s, here’s a real potential for a big win?

I think

Marta Tellado: about mobility. I think about transportation and cars, and that is a very dynamic space right now. And folks are all like, oh, autonomous vehicles. We’re so far away from that. So many things have to happen, you know? Yes. Highway driving straight ahead, but I think about green choice. We just came out with the green choice tag, which helps consumers really think about more sustainable choices and options in our economy, in our [00:29:00] marketplace.

I think there’s great opportunity there and we want to be really helpful in the marketplace. Being more informed on green choice, on sustainability, on mobility, EVs, as well as in your home green choice in your home as well. And I would say the second right next to that is the explosion in digital financial products and services that is going to grow by leaps and bounds.

And we really, really need standard guidelines and rules and protections for consumers. So we are now in the process of developing that framework and stay tuned for some evaluations of those products from us to give consumers greater guidance and protection.

Eric Brown: And we say that as Sam Bankman Fried sits in his parents’ house with an ankle bracelet.

So he learned the. Pitfalls of having faith in something that doesn’t possibly deliver on what the promise is. And again, it’s still the wild West in so many ways [00:30:00] that having a voice that helps you sift through this is, has always been so important. I’ve also wondered, I mean, consumer reports is a giant, it’s, it’s such an important institution and we need a lot of them.

Is there the potential for kind of more voices, more organizations helping to tap into consumer power and awareness to make social change? Because it, it feels like there’s something we need so much more of. We’ve got the big four tech giants. Why don’t we have the big four consumer advocacy giants? .

Marta Tellado: We, we have an ecosystem of really amazing nonprofits and we’re all working on very similar things.

Yeah. And, and I think it’s about us working together and, and the book talks about that a lot. I’m, I don’t think we need five consumer reports. We we benefit from partnering with, you know, public media. We benefit by partnering with some of the other civil rights organizations that we partner with on whether [00:31:00] it’s around privacy, around access to, you know, it’s squashing, predatory loaning practices.

And so, so I think, I think really that’s where our power lies and what I think. We need to do is, is the, the, the resourcing has always been an issue. And you know this Eric, cuz you were in philanthropy as well. And how do you create a vibrant nonprofit sector that has the voice and the reach? The uniqueness about CR I would say is that we’re a social enterprise and there aren’t very many like us where we have the independence.

We’re not dependent on philanthropic dollars. We have a community that supports us and we have to generate products and services that are of value to consumers and become tools for their own protection and their rights. That means we don’t accept any advertising, right? We have to generate and we have to, that that’s hard to do because you’re competing against giants out there that are not transparent, that are telling you, [00:32:00] Hey, you can come to us and it’s free.

Well, because that’s an ad. , it’s not an independent source that you can rely on, that you could trust, and that’s actually working to change things in the marketplace and to codify laws that are gonna help you and help the next generation come up forward. So, so I think, I think it’s, it’s, it’s hard to do, but I, that’s one of the things that drew me to Consumer Reports is, is being able to really dig into this idea of a social enterprise of what that means and, and how to create an ecosystem that is independent and that uses philanthropic dollars as a source of innovation.

Eric Brown: Well, I have been a loyal member, and not just for the information I get, but, but for the, the advocacy that I think that, that, that I know that it generates and and being part of a, a larger. Having my, my Voice be heard in certain, in a larger context. I, I love consumer reports. I love the work you’re doing.

I think this book is really, really good. As you, as you can [00:33:00] see, it’s gotten me all charged up. And I just thank you for your time. I thank you for your work. What a, what a gift it is to be able to have this conversation. Thank you so much,

Marta Tellado: Marta. Thank you, Eric. It’s delightful. Thank you for having me and for shining a light on, on what is my passion, but also what is I think the, the work of the moment in that is you know, a fair and just marketplace that where we can hold companies and government accountable and put and put people.

Eric Brown: Well, the, the I, and I would say the thing that gave me hope is your acknowledgement that we can do it. Yes. That this is something that we can do. And, and I think the tendency is to shrug your shoulders and say, I want the free delivery. And oh, well what are you gonna do? And, and your, your inspiration to me is what we can do is everything that we actually have the power as consumers to come together and, and to push a fairer, more just marketplace.

Marta Tellado: That’s right. And remember, a [00:34:00] marketplace is supply and demand. , they need us. We are in that marketplace. And, and we can be really smart and driven about the kinds of changes that we wanna see. Without us, there is no marketplace. And we’ve been there before who thought we would succeed in getting led out of gasoline and now we’re into EVs.

Those are huge changes, right? Getting chemicals out of baby’s clothing, getting we’ve done it before we can do this again. Now. We couldn’t taste and feel and see the toxic chemicals. We can’t taste, feel, and see the stuff that in the digital marketplaces against us. And that’s not for us. But all of that can be designed and put us first.

And that’s what we, that’s what the book is trying to raise our awareness about it, give you ways give you an action book to, on how to do it every day, and then invite you into a larger movement. To create and codify the rules and the guidelines and the standards we need as a society so that you don’t have to feel like every time you step into the marketplace, [00:35:00] you’re in an obstacle course.

It should be there because that’s where you go every day to realize your dreams and your aspirations. Whether you’re buying a home, getting a higher education loan, or doing something for your family. That’s, that’s your option. That that’s your choice. It should be fair and it should be full of opportunity.

Eric Brown: Well, thank you Marta so much. Marta Tellado, president and c e o of Consumer Reports, go to buyer and get the book and do the things that are in the book and donate, think, talk to your friends. It’s important, valuable work. I really, really cherish you and, and what you’re doing and and let’s go.

Met. Go

Marta Tellado: Meds. Thank you Eric.

Kirk Brown: And we’re back. So, Eric, yes sir. You’re punching, you’re punching way above your weight on this one. . You’re punching way above your weight. . So,

Eric Brown: which means I’m punching pretty well these days.

Kirk Brown: Hey, this is , this is

Eric Brown: the president. This little ti of a thing I [00:36:00] used to be. This is the President

Kirk Brown: and CEO of Consumer Reports.

So let’s start there just with your personal relationship. Marta’s been in this role since 2014 and oh my gosh, what a career. What a trajectory. You know, starting at the Ford Foundation. and then moving to consumer reports. And one, I love that observation she made about when both of those institutions were founded and how they have these incredible legacies and yet have to completely re-envision and revitalize themselves on an ongoing basis, which this book is certainly in the heart of.

But how do you know Marta and why is she so nice to you? , ,

Eric Brown: what’s going on here? I sent everyone a dollar and they’re nice to me. ? No, Marta and I were old pals from when I was the head of comms at the Hewlett Foundation, and she was head of communications at the Ford Foundation. Ah-huh. And we had this, I would, what I would call a rump group of of.

The heads of communications [00:37:00] at a bunch of big foundations are basically whoever kind of decided to show up and we would meet once or twice a year. Mm-hmm. and Kibitz. Mm-hmm. , that’s how I knew. Met Marta and we became friends and she’s a Mets fan and she’s fabulous and I always learned a lot from her.

And I was, I’ve been waiting for the moment to have her on, and obviously this book is a good moment because it’s a, it’s something to talk about, but it’s also a really important, it’s a, an important resource right now. I mean, yes. It’s, it’s a little chilling what we’re dealing with out in the world. Yeah.

You know, the, I, I told you that I don’t like talking about the chat. And I don’t wanna do a show, which we’re gonna do it. We’re not. We’re gonna do it.

Kirk Brown: No, we won’t

Eric Brown: have that fight right now. We’re gonna do it without gonna do it. I don’t wanna do is it’s a boring conversation except that , what we’re, I mean this is a book in which she tackles data privacy, misinformation, credit and lending and financial [00:38:00] fairness, artificial intelligence, that one.

And bias cuz apparently artificial inte. Bias in bias out. And there’s bias, who knew? And then consumer safety. And so, That’s, that’s why this was such a great opportunity to have these kinds of conversations, which some of, many of these things are, have been flowing through our show and like folks we’ve been speaking with over the last, and this is the fifth season by the way.

I looked it up. It is, is the beginning of our you know, sort of the second or third show into Earth. Yeah. Fifth season. Happy fifth

Kirk Brown: season. That’s so awesome. Happy,

Eric Brown: happy five. It’s, it’s a good, it’s great. It’s

Kirk Brown: a good number. . So is this a key framing moment? Cuz that’s what it struck me as. And you’re right, I’ve led the conspiracy theory quarter on, let’s hear it.

I’m not alone on that corner. There are many of us hanging out. Well, there the corner, they’re everywhere. Yeah, that’s right. Exactly. There’s so many of us. They’re everywhere. They’re

Eric Brown: hiding. To

Kirk Brown: see what this notion about Digi digital security, this notion about [00:39:00] digital security, that it’s fundamentally a consumer rights issue.

I had never thought of that in such plain and clear terms. That this is a digital rights issue. And in fact, it’s exactly like, I’m sorry, this is a consumer rights issue, right? This digital security, it’s a consumer rights issue. And in that respect, it’s just like any other major consumer rights issue, which is you’re confronting a new product, often poorly understood.

It’s inter fact, it’s interfacing and affecting human lives in a very significant way, and all of a sudden we have to wake up and realize we shouldn’t be at the effect of these products. We should actually be guiding how these projects are, our products are presented to us because we are the consumers and actually we have the power of the, of the pocketbook if we get, if we martial our voices together.

But digital security is a consumer rights issue. I had never, I honestly, it had never felt that plain to me. . I think this is a huge contribution in terms of just framing all this, all these considerations. What do you think about that? Am [00:40:00] I, am I late? Am I, am I a late arriving to that awareness or

Eric Brown: Kirk?

Sometimes you’re late for things, but not as This , not this thing. Well, I’d take it even one further if we’re gonna get sy logistic here, which is that digital rights are consumer rights and consumer rights are civil rights. Yes. Yes.

Kirk Brown: Thank you. There we go. Thank you. Thank you. There it is. As Kirk goes crazy.

Ah, and, and which is why you owe me an apology. I’m sorry. It’s not conspiracy. It’s not conspiracy. It’s

Eric Brown: it’s civil rights. I apologize, Kirk. How dare you. How dare you. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Well, and given that so many of our consumer choices are dead, are, are determined by a set of rules and. In Marta’s book, she identifies, you know, four, the big four tech giants mm-hmm.

who make decisions that affect your life in every way. And if you are a a person of color, it is difficult to get certain products. If you are a woman, it’s difficult to get certain products. You don’t have access to things. It, you may be redlined out of the opportunity [00:41:00] to get a loan. I mean, and on and on and on and on.

And as she says, as Marta says, consumers are, we’re they are, they are, we are a sleeping giant. Yeah. And that they need us. Right. Without, I love that us, but we consumers, there is no marketplace. Right. We

Kirk Brown: outnumber them. We gotta, we outnumber them.

Eric Brown: We’re not as nearly well organiz. Yeah, that’s for sure. But I think that this book is both a call to arms, however you wanna define it.

A call a a call to kind of consumer, collective consumer power. And it’s also a great how-to book about how to make sure that they don’t track your thing and your TV isn’t watching you. And Yeah. You know, all that kind of stuff. Those are the kind of the scary things. But also you do have agency. It’s not all , you know, where all is not lost.

Well, and if

Kirk Brown: you doubt the capacity of people like Marta to be engaged in these conversations and, and create real change, let’s just think about this [00:42:00] career Marta brings to this issue, right? She starts at public, , what a great what for this kind of conversation. What a great place to get that start. Right.

And I’m

Eric Brown: sure she get, having worked at Pub Public Citizen, she could tell, give us all sorts of good recipes, hacks for how to, you know, live on Top Ramen,

Kirk Brown: But I loved that conversation though as you were concluding the interview where she was talking about, look, let’s think about transportation. We’ve gone from trying to get lead out of gasoline, which is what, you know, Ralph and Jonah, those folks got started doing right. And now we’re talking about electric vehicles and how to roll those out in an, in a, in an equitable way.

And, and I love that notion of the big four tech giants and how in the, in the auto world, well it was the, the three whatever, big three or whatever it was Right? Sure. Of I And, and it felt as impenetrable, as immovable and as confusing for consumer. as it does today. And how do you start attacking that?

Well, Marta thinks it through, [00:43:00] writes a book. I love the fact that here’s this consumer advocacy organization that actually pays its own way because it creates products that people want to buy. And that discipline, that organizational discipline, I hadn’t really thought about it that clearly until she started talking about it, but I have to believe that there’s something about that discipline that creates some of the clarity that we see in Mar Marta’s book.

Yeah, I

Eric Brown: think so. Although I think about lots of nonprofit organizations, it’s hard for me to figure out where the h how you can use that kind of business. , let’s just say mm-hmm. . So in, in that they are a consumer advocacy organization that also provides consumer information that is worth buying. If you are an, mm-hmm.

An environmental advocacy organization, you may not be able to provide, you know, environmental services that anyone’s going to pay for. So, in a sense, they, they’re, they’re in a great place. Fair because they have the opportunity to be [00:44:00] financially independent by providing services Yeah. That people will pay for.

I think that probably the challenge is inevitably how do you make sure that you don’t, you know, appeal to the least common denominator in those services. So do

Kirk Brown: you think, I know you’re gonna disagree with this, but, but I disagree. , do you think that almost all of our campaigns are consumer.

Eric Brown: Oh, I wanna disagree with you, Kirk, but I’m having a hard time.

Kirk Brown: I mean, I can see a framework where you, it, it doesn’t make sense to think of it that way, but when, but that link to consumer rights being civil rights because, you know, so, so I, I, I read through the five takeaways from the book and I, and I just get so angry thinking about them like the first one, the digital marketplace has shifted power away from consumers.

And it’s so clear that that’s happened. And yet it all happened to all of us all at once. right in front of our eyes as we are participating, right. And we weren’t aware of it, didn’t know what was happening. I’m not even sure that our policy makers knew it was happening, right? Because it’s so [00:45:00] lack, there’s so much lack of transparency in terms of what’s happening behind the veil and this whole technological universe that we’ve somehow, I’m not even sure it’s fair to say, we’ve created it, it’s been created for us and we’re like dipping our toes into it.

But this notion that this marketplace has shifted power away from consumers and we as consumers need to come together. Well, if we outnumber them and we always have outnumbered them, why don’t we get whatever we want? You know what, what’s going on? That these things are being created and un unhatched and unveiled for us that we have to spend so

Eric Brown: much work.

Well, the reason I think is that we are not organized and that the, these behe behemoths can buy us off. Yeah. And they can pick people off at the edges. It’s a little bit like the company town in which they will hire workers. You know, workers try to unionize and they’ll always be able to find someone who’s hungrier.

Right? Who needs the money more, whose kid has right. Doctor bills and bust the union. And I think in a sense that that’s what technology is doing, is it’s busting our ability to, [00:46:00] to pay for what we get in appropriate ways that allow us to keep what we deserve to keep. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . Because you’re quite right.

We are all standing there and they’ve taken everything away from us. , they know everything about you, Kirk, and me too. And, and I don’t take a ton of solace in the fact that I’m not interesting enough to know anything about. And there’s always somebody with more that they can take from. But I don’t think that’s very smart of me.

Kirk Brown: Well, and you know, in this notion, this other, so we’ve talked about the digital marketplace has shifted power. Consumer rights are civil rights. That is such a crucial idea. And then this notion of restoring trust in the marketplace, and this is what I’ve started thinking about all these social channels that we, I guess we’re still enamored of, even though we’re kind of.

in our sort of questioning now about what’s happening with the social landscape, I feel like for more than a decade we’ve all been drinking this cup of coffee. and it’s this liquid that’s opaque. You can’t see [00:47:00] through it or into it, and you have no idea what’s in it, but you just keep digesting it. You just keep drinking it.

And, and slowly but surely, it’s changing things and things. You don’t understand it. It’s almost like there’s a little chemical in it and all of a sudden you’ve got a third arm and a second, you know, a third eye or something. And it, and I feel like that’s what social media is. You actually, you’re, you’re consuming a product that you actually don’t know what’s in it.

You don’t know the ingredients behind it, and you actually can’t even process because it’s not made known to you. Why you’re even seeing what you’re seeing, let alone what it is.

Eric Brown: That’s a disturbing metaphor, but I’m starting to, I’m starting to see what you’re getting at and, and so

Kirk Brown: this notion of you’ve gotta restore trust.

Well, you know, my sense of that is, well, that means you need to create some transparency. Like you think about all these products that we consume that all have such strong guidelines for what goes into them. You know, every light bulb that’s in your house has been certified as, , it’s a workable working functional light bulb.

You don’t have to worry about that. There are people that have done [00:48:00] that work every, hopefully all the food you’re consuming that we know this doesn’t go as well as we’d like. It’s been, it’s been tested, evaluated, made sure that it’s safe. You don’t have to do that. What is the standard for safety in the digital marketplace?

Eric Brown: Yeah. And, and that’s, that’s Marta’s one of her important points. There are no standards in the digital world. Hmm. And. , it’s, no, it’s interesting. I’m wanna wander slightly into Twitter right now. It we’re seeing a little bit of a consumer backlash against a crazy owner of a digital thing. Mm-hmm. . And, and it, it took that, it took the fact that Elon Musk is, is who he is to get people aware that he, he actually has a lot of information about everybody.

Mm-hmm. and he’s buying it and selling it, and then we don’t want that. So, mm-hmm. does it, does it, do you have to have a, an anti-hero or do you have to have an enemy when in fact maybe even the most benign [00:49:00] CEOs, if they’re, if you could call them that, or those who, who don’t, aren’t nearly as nefarious, have just as much power over your life as he does, and yet we think, okay, that’s okay cuz I want my delivery of this.

Whatever computer mouse in four hours. And that’s, yeah, that’s the trade off that we’re making. And we’re, and the question is, are we selling our souls and ? If so, is it worth it?

Kirk Brown: Well, and it makes me wanna ask the question, what did they know and when did they know it? You know, who knew it? Who saw it when we were selling our souls?

So then, Your safety should be treated like a right. This is Marta’s fourth point. Correct. Your safety should be treated like a right. And I love this transitive property we’re starting to draw, you know, which is consumer rights are civil rights. You know, that those consumer rights grounded in your safety, that is a civil right.

And this is why I keep coming back to, are all these campaigns, almost fundamentally consumer rights campaigns. Because any campaign that you’re advocating for more safety, more transparency, , you know, we’re, we’re, we’re unlocking the best of [00:50:00] people. What happens when you do that? They, they’re able to contribute to their highest and best level, you know?

So, so it’s funny, this notion of thinking this all as consumers, but then lastly, we have to recognize the power we have. So this is where consumer reports comes in, and I love that it, what it’s a magazine with the mission is what you talked about, or, or it’s a mission with a magazine. The rallying cry that the consumer reports of the world can create to have all of us work together to create this change.

This is the leadership that Marr is providing us. , but what a clear thinker. What a clear communicator. I couldn’t imagine a better spokesperson for this work.

Eric Brown: So, okay, so as you were talking, it was, it all started to dawn on me. What, like, why are we having this conversation when we’re in non, you know, we talk about non-profit and foundation communications and the answer is, yeah, my answer anyway is that all of the constituents of all of the organizations that all you folks out there listening all of your constituents are also consumers.

And in many ways they, they’re consumers every single day [00:51:00] and they’re maybe your constituents once or twice a week or, but, but understanding how to connect with your audiences from their vantage point as consumers who are consuming information, they’re consuming culture and they’re consuming actual things that have effects on our lives, our, our social value, and whether we can.

Get out of bed in the morning. Those are places that you can make connections that have a real you know, like a real tangible activity that your constituents are, are doing every day. And I think that’s where this very interesting connection happens. And that’s why it’s interesting to see that Mar is working with Color of Change and other social justice organizations, and environmental organizations and others.

So she gets that connection. And I think on the others, on the flip side of it, if you work for a nonprofit or a foundation, Understanding that the audiences that you care about are [00:52:00] making these decisions every single day and that there are things that you can do to help coalesce them and engage them and and provide power to them.

That seems interesting to me. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. I haven’t really worked it out past that, cuz I just thought it up as you were talking. But , I think like that’s the point of this conversation.

Kirk Brown: It’s genius. No, it’s genius. It’s genius. And so, so this is, this is my new great idea. I have a new great idea.

We need to rename our podcast and we have to call it Fund This because No, I agree. This is the work, this is, this is the work that needs to be funded. Okay. Right. This, this effort by consumer reports to mobilize this. It is so fundamental that we get this sorted out in quickly for the sake of children, for the sake of our ability to have an actual democracy, for the sake of, of having fairness and transparency, let alone a marketplace that makes products and services available to all of us, [00:53:00] regardless of race or any other consideration.

Let’s fund this work. Right. I mean, that’s my, that’s my takeaway. My bottom line. This is so important. Okay. We don’t have

Eric Brown: to call our podcast fund this, but that’s okay. , that, that would seem a little self-serving if you ask me, . Okay.

Kirk Brown: I’m saying fund

Eric Brown: this, not fund

Kirk Brown: us. I’m saying

Eric Brown: fund this, fund this, not fund this.

People won’t understand. Yeah. Okay. Got it. Got it. Well, but but I, I agree with the concept. It, I mean, I, I really do. It’s, it’s just fascinating to me that these, that there are so many of these connections to be made and it was great to have Marta. She’s amazing. And, and I would say the book is really, Really good and so worth having.

It’s almost, it’s like a reference guide to how to keep the world from stealing

Kirk Brown: your brain. So Marta, thank you so much. Thank you for the work. And again, that’s buyer aware, harnessing our consumer power for a safe, fair, and transparent marketplace. Go to consumer reports, find the [00:54:00] book, download it, read it.

It’s really terrific. And Marta, thank you so much for coming to, let’s hear it. And Eric, once again, what a guest, what a conversation. That was amazing.

Eric Brown: Well, that was a lot of fun. And also one more shout out to buyer Yes. Which is this great reference. There’s all the kind of stuff on there that you can take action on and sign petitions and download stuff.

Really, really helpful. So I strongly recommend just checking that out. But get the book. It’s worth it. It’s it’s really, really, really valuable.

Kirk Brown: Buyer That’s it. Go there, check it out. And we’ll see you next time and let’s hear it. Okay everybody, that’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show.

And that definitely includes yourself. And we’d like to thank John Ali, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme music,

Eric Brown: our sponsors, the Communications Network, and the Lumina Foundation.

Kirk Brown: And please check out Lumina’s terrific [00:55:00] podcast, today’s students tomorrow’s talent, and you can find that at

Eric Brown: Certainly thank today’s guest, and of course, all of you,

Kirk Brown: and most importantly, thank you, Mr. Brown.

Eric Brown: Oh, no, no, no, no. Thank you, Mr. Brown.

Kirk Brown: Okay, everybody tell next time,

Eric Brown: let’s hear it.

Hello, friends, if you’re still listening, you’re either a deeply committed, let’s hear it listener and you can’t stand to say goodbye, or you just forgot to turn off the podcast. In any event, you’re in for an incredible treat. Here is a sneak listen to a cut from the composer of our theme song John Allee’s new album. And yes, it’s a full on jazz version of the theme song of Let’s Hear It. Inspired by the HIT podcast.

Check out john That’s J O H N a double L double e dot com. For more information about John’s album coming out in May. So have a listen and enjoy. I [00:56:00] want to

Music plays:

Listen up now here this, listen up. Now hear this what you got to say. Don’t fear it. Say it anyway. Let me hear it.

This sent up. Now hear this. Listen up. Now here, this talking to the crowd and we it say it right out loud. Let’s see, hear it. Your point of you is how you, you it. Pick up your cue and let’s get to it.

[00:57:00] Can’t find words. Then we’ll work through it. Have a chat about Back to the fat that’s here with your at Let’s Scat. You got listen up now. Here is, listen up now here. There’s so much to say. Let’s cheer notions to convey, let’s.[00:58:00]

Your point of view how you it. Did you pick up UQ and let a. I can’t find the words, then we’ll work through it. Yes, we you have a chat about that. Let you, your outlets scatter up, up now. Here it is. This end up. Now heres, there’s so much to say. Let’s notions to convey. Let’s hear it.

Got some gospel [00:59:00] to relay. Lets here hear it.