We’ve all become more connected by the things we buy. Apple, Samsung, Amazon, General Mills, Nestlé — we live in a world where a couple dozen large corporations make most of our products and have a huge influence on our lives. And that level of interconnectedness often comes with risk. We see news headlines every week about product recalls or data leaks that can affect millions of people at a time. And the bigger the company, the harder it feels to demand change when things go wrong.
According to a survey from Consumer Reports, only 35% of Americans trust that the products they buy won’t cause physical harm, and 43% feel that they are powerless to change unfair consumer practices. People have also lost trust in the government to regulate businesses. 65% agree that the government favors corporate interests over the rights of consumers.
But this feeling of helplessness shouldn’t be the end of the story, because we do have power as consumers. Our guest for this episode is here to teach us how to harness that power and push companies to be better. Marta Tellado is the president and CEO of Consumer Reports, a nonprofit that uses research and activism to create a fairer marketplace. They perform product safety tests, conduct surveys on how consumers are feeling (like the one we cited above), and advocate for better legal, financial, and environmental protections. As CEO, Marta has also spearheaded efforts to protect people’s digital rights by helping them avoid cyber breaches and surveillance. Her latest project is a book that tackles all of the risks that we face in the marketplace today: “Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair, and Transparent Marketplace.”
Marta tells us how her background as a Cuban-American immigrant inspired her to work in public service and eventually become a leader in consumer protection. She explains the history of consumer rights and how it’s deeply connected to other social justice movements we’ve seen over the past several decades — including civil rights, economic equality, women’s rights, and environmental rights.
Marta then takes us to the present day and breaks down the biggest dangers in the marketplace. We talk about financial traps that make it harder for people to secure insurance and mortgages, tech companies that collect and sell our personal information, and defective physical products that can put our health at risk.
If all of that sounds scary and impossible to fix, Marta reminds us that we have a lot more power to influence companies than we think we do.
“Remember the marketplace is supply and demand,” she says. “We have a voice, and that is the demand side. Any market can thrive, but it needs us to thrive. So how do we exercise that agency every day?”
Marta tells us exactly how. Her advice includes taking advantage of resources like the Consumer Reports Security Planner to protect your privacy online, using your purchasing power to make a difference, and — most importantly — working with others to take collective action. Because it takes all of us to create fundamental, lasting change, says Marta.
In Mailbag, we hear from a listener who wants to know how to handle her daughter’s leftover 529 college savings funds. Another asks about how to find the best life and disability insurance policies for her and her husband. In Thrive, how to go green and save some cash during the holidays.
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