Commentary

Craigslist Founder Donates $6M To 'Consumer Reports'

Craig Newmark, the entrepreneur who made a fortune from digital classifieds with Craiglist, donated more money to support journalism.

His foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, gave $6 million to Consumer Reports to support its research into the ways  technology invades people’s privacy. The donation is the biggest one in the history of the nonprofit organization, which started in 1936.

The contribution will fund a new program called Digital Lab focused on testing new smart products, apps and services, including printers, routers, cars and password managers. Consumer Reports has a fundraising goal of $25 million by next year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported.

Consumer Reports CEO Marta Tellado said consumer-protection laws haven’t kept pace with the digital age, amid incidents including data breaches, privacy abuses and online hacking.

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“Companies like Google and Facebook have shown that while they’re offering great conveniences, they aren’t always policing themselves. A lot of our laws are not keeping pace with innovations,” Tellado told The New York Times.

Newmark’s donation is his second one to Consumer Reports to help support research into technology. He joined the Ford Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in contributing $2.8 million to launch Digital Standard, a Consumer Reports-led effort to monitor technology.

That project found several brands of smart TVs were vulnerable to hacking. Its reporting led Samsung to fix a security flaw. Digital Standard also showed Google users how to delete their search histories.

Newmark, whose Craigslist has been blamed by investors like Warren Buffett for killing off a significant source of revenue for local newspapers, has worked to support journalism in other ways.

Last year, his foundation invested $20 million in The Markup, a nonprofit site for investigative journalism on the technology industry. The news site is going through a rocky period following the ouster of its former in editor in April, with most of its editorial staff quitting in protest. The site’s other two founders also left in the past month.

Newmark’s donation to Consumer Reports is admirable, considering consumers need another watchdog on the technology industry. Federal lawmakers are considering a consumer-privacy bill that may one day become law, but only after tech companies spend millions to rewrite it in a way that puts smaller competitors at a disadvantage.

Anyone who has watched congressional hearings of Silicon Valley executives, such as last year’s public grilling of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, knows lawmakers are hopelessly out of touch with technology and its possible negative effects on society.

Hacked elections, fake news, online censorship and ceaseless invasions of consumer privacy show little sign of being contained as technologies supposed to help people morph into a Frankenstein’s monster of nearly unchecked abuse.

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