Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair, and Transparent Marketplace

Photo by Kindel Media

Don’t look now, but you’re being shadowed.

It sure seems like it sometimes. Play around on social media and a few minutes later, ads start showing up for the discussions you just posted. Search a topic, click on a link, peek at an ad, and hey, are you being followed?

Read “Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair, and Transparent Marketplace” (Public Affairs, September 2022) by Marta L. Tellado, and bet on it.

It’s almost quite scary: online giants, “the Big Four” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google) know what you’re doing this weekend. They know about your health concerns and your vacation plans, too, and they’re not alone, says Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports.

Consumer products, financial firms, and Internet trolls also wreak havoc on your life. And you willingly let them. “At some point early in the Internet revolution, we lost control over our digital lives,” Tellado says.

She cites problems with Amazon devices that listened to a user’s conversation and sent it to a third party. A Facebook algorithm suggested that a bigamist’s wives become friends. Millions of people innocently going about their lives are monitored and recorded on Ring devices and the footage is easily accessible by police without a warrant.

Tellado points out the “ever-shrinking word ‘Ad’ in the corner of your Google Search…” She wonders why personal data is taken and sold and why “opting out” isn’t the default.

There are a few things that we, as consumers, can do, Tellado writes.

* “The first is to be skeptical,” she notes. Reviews are faked all too often these days, and certain news outlets are “entertainment” and not news.

* Confirm before sharing on social media, to avoid passing on misinformation.

* Keep an eye on your elders. Elder fraud is big business now.

* Watch your credit report carefully.

* Know how to opt out of data collecting as much as you can and don’t let data breaches go unrepaired.

* Take security practices seriously and be “smarter” about navigating the Internet.

* “Pester lawmakers by phone, email, or visits to stick up for consumers… we can do it state by stare if Congress dawdles.”

In its infancy, the Internet was perceived as a benevolent place for knowledge. “Buyer Aware” makes it abundantly clear that the opposite is true.

Focusing on Big Business, Tellado writes about some of the breaches of trust that the “Big Four” have broken. What she shares rivals anything a horror novelist could offer. These are facts that should keep your finger hovering over your mouse or keypad for a few extra think-about-it seconds before clicking.

Then again… don’t we already know what we’re giving up? Sure, it’s great to have the information in “Buyer Aware” all in one place, but that information is nothing new. However, in reading about it in a single, well-researched book, readers could be forgiven for wondering if fighting data collection and Internet misusage is tantamount to a flea battling an elephant.

What’s here is both encouraging and discouraging, but it’s worth emphasizing. Indeed, if you’re willing to do the work, “Buyer Aware” sheds good light on the Internet shadows.