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Consumer Reports Seen in a New Light

The recent scandal over car-seat tests suggests the magazine bashed RFID in search of a controversial story.
Posted By Mark Roberti, 01.26.2007
I and millions of other people got an e-mail yesterday from Jim Guest, President of Consumer Reports. The letter apologized for an article in the February issue of the magazine involving tests run on infant car seats. The article was retracted on Jan. 18 after U.S. auto-safety regulators did their own tests, the results of which contradicted Consumer Reports' finding that most of the dozen seats tested "failed disastrously."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the magazine's outside test lab might have done the side-impact test at speeds that may have exceeded 70 mph (113 kph), instead of the reported 38 mph.

What does this have to do with radio frequency identification? Not a lot—except you might recall that Consumer Reports also published a blatantly one-sided article about RFID entitled "The End of Privacy" (for my rebuttal, see Consumer Distorts).

The sensational nature of the article was odd for a magazine known for objective testing. I thought maybe the writer had snowed the editors into believing RFID really is a threat to privacy. At least, I believed that until I read the headline of the retracted story: "What If This Were Your Child?" This was printed below photos of an infant seat getting torn apart in a test car crash.

I've been in journalism for more than 20 years, and I know the pressures editors and reporters come under. Magazine sales are down. You need to be relevant. You need to get attention. You need to be more sensational. I don't know for sure that this is what happened with the Consumer Reporters privacy and car seat stories, but if it looks like a fish and smells like a fish, then it probably is a fish.

The sad thing is that the privacy article wasn't based on flawed testing, just flawed reporting. So it won't be retracted. But the privacy article was misinformation, just like the car seat story. Both badly served the magazine's readers.

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