As reported today by the Washington Post, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will launch a public database of complaints this March at SaferProducts.gov.
The new public database of consumer complaints is mandated by Section 212 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The CPSIA requires the Commission to establish and maintain a publicly accessible product safety information database that is available to the public. In the 21st Century, that means online, searchable and accessible at SaferProducts.gov.
As Lyndsey Layton points out at the Washington Post, the implementation of the database is not without controversy or political context. Manufacturing and industry groups are concerned about fictitious complaints or inaccurate claims made by competitors. Opponents of the launch of SaferProducts.gov are working against it, arguing that the public database could add additional burdens for businesses in a difficult economic environment.
The CPSC already collects reports of defective products from a wide range of sources, including consumers, health-care providers, death certificates and media accounts.But most of that information is shielded from public view. Until now, the only way for consumers to access safety complaints is to file a public-records request with the CPSC. The agency is then required by law to consult with the manufacturer before releasing information about their products, and the company can protest or sue to stop disclosure. If the agency thinks a dangerous product should be pulled from the market, it must negotiate a recall with the manufacturer, a process that can take months or years.
Under the new system, consumer complaints will be posted for any reader to find at SaferProducts.gov within 15 days after they are filed. When a consumer files a complaint under the new system, the CPSC will have 5 days to notify a manufacturer, which then has 10 days to respond to the complaint by challenging it, submitting a response or arguing that it violates a trade secret. A response would be published online with the complaint at SaferProductsgov, while the CPSC would have to decide to withhold or publish a complaint if a company asserts a false complaint.
This Tuesday, at 10:30 AM EST, the CPSC will host a webcast showing the new SaferProducts.gov report form at SaferProducts.gov/live. Visit CPSC.gov or follow the @OnSafety account at Twitter for updates on the official launch of the site.
In the meantime, consumers can continue to make use of the mobile recalls app that the federal government launched last year at USA.gov. These product recall datasets have been some of the most queried data on Data.gov over the past year, no doubt helped in part by the connected applications.
The CPSC also has a widget that blogs (like this one) can embed with recall information: