Posted January 24, 2011 7:03 pm by with 4 comments

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If you routinely scan social media for complaints about your business or product, come March you’ll need to add another site to the list. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is now beta testing a new website that will allow consumers to list their complaints publicly. The site is called and AdAge calls it “Yelp with the imprimatur of government authority.”

The site will focus only on product safety issues and complaints will be screened before they go live, but don’t expect too many of the posts to get tossed. The CPSC says, all comments “that meet the minimum requirements for publication in the Database will be disclosed in the Database.” The legalese that follows is pretty extensive but it all boils down to what the screener considers to be reasonable. Which means, unless a consumer sends in a blatantly outrageous claim, it’s likely to get published.

Once the claim goes live, the CPSC will attempt to contact the businesses associated with the product and they’ll have ten days to write their rebuttal which will be published next to the claim.

As AdAge puts it, “the burden of proof there lies with the manufacturer.”

No one wants to see a child injured by a faulty toy or a death due to incorrectly manufactured tires, but given our propensity to sue our fellow man, this database sounds like it has the potential to get out of hand and fast. It’s one thing to see a complaint on Yelp about a plumber who arrived an hour late and another thing entirely to see an injury claim on a government website. No matter what kind of disclaimers they put in the fine print, people are going to assume that these complaints were vetted. It is a dot gov website after all, so that means there’s authority behind the words. Or rather, there should be.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a small office that already handles thousands of complaints every year, maybe millions. If even a small fraction of those complaints end up on the public website, it’s going to be damage control time for a lot of companies both big and small.

What do you think of the idea of putting CPSC complaints online? Is public safety more important than a company’s reputation? And as a marketer, are you prepared to handle a sudden wave of very public complaints?

  • I think this is a good idea. I believe the company’s reputation will not be put in a bad light if at the start they will be more discriminating of the quality of the products they release to the public. This will surely keep them of their toes, and consumers will get better products.

    • J Weingart

      I think the CPSB should investigate the veracity of claims about dangerous products. Otherwise people will just post (or create new) urban legends. If a manufactured product is said to cause “sterility” for example, and it doesn’t, the posts should be taken down.

  • I think that the reputation of a company is hugely important, but not at the cost of consumers. I think it is important for consumers to be able to express their complaints (particularly if they have suffered some sort of harm) but I don’t agree that is should be publicly displayed. Companies have an obligation to consumers to provide good service or products. If something goes wrong, it should be fixed. It is not necessary to allow a company’s reputation to be publicly destroyed because of a mistake.

    On the other hand, if companies are deliberately scamming their customers then thats a whole other story and they deserve to be shot down. In my opinion, this new website could become a gateway for company’s to bash one another to eliminate competition, or in other words, lie on one another. I guess what it comes down to, is whether or not these online complaints are reversible, if they can be removed once they are posted then the damage will be less.

    • Cynthia

      It doesn’t sound like things will be taken down but it will stand next to the rebuttal, so it’s all about who you believe.

      As I said, if there’s a legitimate issue, I think consumers have a right to know, but the trouble here lies in the fact that it’s a government website but it will be accepting “bad reviews” just like Amazon or Yelp.