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Can consumers save their own privacy?

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Two decades ago, Consumer Reports started sharing its product reviews with subscribers online. Now, the 81-year-old magazine is making an even bigger change: Doing way more than just hardware.

On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, CEO Marta Tellado talked about how the nonprofit business, which is supported by paid subscriptions, is rethinking its role in the digital era. It wants to “bend the marketplace,” she said, to make all products safer, more reliable and more conscious of their users’ privacy.

“We now have connected cars … [and] all this ambient technology that is constantly giving you information — connected products at home, smart homes,” Tellado said. “So how do you take a workforce and shift it from thinking about the hardware to thinking about the software?”

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On a site called the Digital Standard, Consumer Reports and its partners are planning to name and shame the worst offenders in consumer privacy, while also uplifting the best products — starting with TVs, fitness trackers and baby monitors.

The site has historically proven that it can mobilize its subscribers to put its issues in the faces of manufacturers and legislators. After the recent Equifax hack (which we’ll be discussing in depth on an upcoming Too Embarrassed to Ask), Consumer Reports rallied 150,000 readers to contact Congress within 24 hours, Tellado said.

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On the podcast, Tellado also explained why people should still listen to product-reviewing experts, particularly those with a proven track record of independence, even though looking at the starred reviews on Amazon is a lot easier.

“There’s a cacophony of voices, offline and online, talking about products,” Tellado said. “But are they independent? Are they ad-based? How do you know it’s not a native ad? How do you know it’s a trusted source? What we keep hearing from folks is, ‘We need a trusted source.’”

Have questions about Consumer Reports or the future of reviews that we didn’t get to in this episode? Tweet them to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed, or email them to [email protected]

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we’re looking for questions about a specific topic.

If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!


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