CPSC Begins ‘Soft Launch’ of Product Safety Complaint Erratabase

By January 24, 2011Regulations

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a nice Monday morning surprise, a “soft launch” of the new consumer product safety complaint database, SaferProducts.gov, which the National Association of Manufacturers believes is ripe for abuse.

Alston and Bird reported the news in a client advisory last Thursday, “Consumer Product Safety Commission Database to Become Operational on January 24, 2011, Weeks Earlier than Expected“:

This early “soft launch” was announced during a CPSC presentation on January 20, 2011. Manufacturers and others affected by the database now effectively have one full business day to prepare for the database’s launch….

Although the CPSC indicated that consumer reports of harm submitted during the soft launch would not be publicly viewable during the launch period, clients should still be prepared to respond promptly to reports of harm. Today’s unexpected announcement also suggests that clients should be prepared for other unexpected actions by the CPSC with regard to the database.

UPDATE (10:25 a.m.): To be fair, we should repeat the CPSC’s important note about the “soft launch”: “Reports and manufacturer comments collected during Soft Launch will not be published and searchable in the Database, even after the official launch in March 2011.” Rest of the post continues below …

The NAM detailed manufacturers’ objections in a Jan. 13 Capital Briefing, “CPSC to Roll out Product Safety Database“:

This database has alarmed manufacturers, who fear that it will become a poorly monitored site that encourages reputation-harming complaints. Unfortunately, the new rule invites the gaming of the database to the detriment of manufacturers of safe products, even to the point of expanding the definition of “consumer” and “public safety entities” those who can register an online complaint to include trial lawyers and activist groups.

Advertising Age’ latest report also spots the problems. From “Marketers, Meet the Feds’ Very Own Yelp“:

The complaint database at SaferProducts.gov will be searchable by brand or manufacturer. Jill Deal, a lawyer with the Venable firm in Washington, calls it “Yelp with the imprimatur of government authority.”

Of course, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook and a wide array of anonymous review boards online have made it easy for just about anyone to complain about just about anything. And the CPSC will require something many of those forums don’t: verifiable contact information, though that won’t be made public in the database or disclosed to the target of the complaint unless the reporter so requires.

But rather than the complaints of surly waiters or cold food that are a mainstay of Yelp, CPSC will publish complaints about injury or risk of injury. And government authority or no, there’s not much due process involved before complaints get published.

Not much due process, but a lot of potential for unjustified damage to a product or company’s reputation, with the predictable lawsuits to follow. The damage from the overkilling Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act keeps mounting.

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