Consumer Reports Webwatch Keeps Spotlight On Internet Credibility With Renewed Support From Foundations And Host, Consumers Union

Contact: Cindy L. Jobbins, 215.575.4812, Susan Lindner, 212.922.5885


Yonkers, NY - 10/18/2004 - Consumer Reports WebWatch’s future as an online watchdog is assured today as The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation provide renewed grants to the project totaling $1 million, while project host Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, makes a long term commitment to sustain it. Consumer Reports WebWatch investigates, exposes and informs the public about harmful practices online, while creating ways to improve the integrity of information on the Web. The organization publishes investigative reports, issues industry and consumer guidelines to promote online credibility, and hosts national conferences in critical areas including online travel, search engines, health Web sites and more.

Original, Unbiased, In-depth Reports

WebWatch will publish four in-depth reports in the remaining months of 2004, focusing on search engines such as Yahoo!, MSN, AskJeeves and Google, and on international and domestic airline ticket-booking sites --part of the largest-grossing e-commerce sector, travel. In 2005, WebWatch will focus on news and information, health, financial and children's Web sites. In partnership with ConsumerReports.org, WebWatch has published ratings of search engines, and auto insurance, airline-ticketing and hotel-booking sites. WebWatch will continue to reach to major Web sites, urging them to adopt standards to increase transparency and enhance credibility.

Conferences Setting the Agenda for Online Trust

WebWatch also announced plans to follow its successful 2002 Summit on Web Credibility with three new conferences in 2005.

  • March 2005 --Dallas: Online Travel    
  • June 2005 -- San Francisco: Search Engines and Health Information Searching    
  • September 2005 -- Washington, D.C: Web Site Trust and Credibility, updating the project’s groundbreaking report from 2002, "A Matter of Trust: What Users Want from Web Sites."
"As the head of this organization, I am very proud of the progress that Consumer Reports WebWatch has made toward standards for a more credible online world," said Jim Guest, President and CEO of Consumers Union. "The work of WebWatch is a natural extension of Consumers Union’s mission to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace. Just like all Consumers Union’s products and publications, Consumer WebWatch is expert, independent and nonprofit, accepts no advertising, and empowers consumers to make the most informed choices."

Launched in 2002 with $4.8 million from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Institute, WebWatch has helped more than 150 companies set higher standards for Web publishing. Companies that have signed a public pledge to abide by WebWatch’s credibility guidelines include The New York Times, CNN.com, CNET, HP, Barnes & Noble, Overture, The Mayo Clinic, Monster, HotJobs, WebMD, Travelocity and Orbitz.

"There’s a clear and simple message here for all Web publishers: Don't hide anything. Don't try to mislead people about what is advertising and what isn't,” said Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Reports WebWatch. “Don't bury fees. Respect privacy and post your policy. Invest in security. The best sites already do these things, have taken our pledge and, we believe, will ultimately reap the rewards of doing business that has their customer’s interest at heart," said Brendler.

Brendler, who worked in top online editorial posts at ABC News, The Washington Post and the National Journal before coming to Consumer Reports WebWatch in May 2001, says companies that have taken steps to improve Web site credibility are praiseworthy. But commercial Web sites that mislead consumers do so at their own peril, and threaten to erode trust in the medium.

"All over the Web, you see the gradual erosion of the boundaries between advertising and editorial content," Brendler said. "So many sites are still scrambling to make money, so advertisers have a lot of leverage over publishers."

WebWatch has also assisted other organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Association for Retired Persons, in analyzing and developing online policy. It has collaborated on research with Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and others, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has cited its research in its own efforts to improve credibility practices among search engines. WebWatch has collaborated with Consumers International, representing 250 organizations in 115 countries, on Web credibility projects in Western, Eastern and Central Europe, Thailand and Malaysia. The additional commitments of $500,000 each from Knight and Pew will allow this kind of work to continue.

About Consumer Reports WebWatch

Consumer Reports WebWatch is the leader in investigative reporting on trust and credibility in the online marketplace. WebWatch uses the proven methods of Consumer Reports to produce comprehensive research, breakthrough conferences and serves as a daily resource of unbiased and trustworthy information. Its research agenda includes entire online marketplaces, such as travel, search, health, financial services and more. WebWatch is a project of Consumers Union and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Institute. WebWatch's investigative reports, articles and news are available to Consumer Reports' five million on- and offline subscribers and to the general public at Consumer Reports WebWatch.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, CU accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. C supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants. Consumer Reports content can be found online at ConsumerReports.org. Consumers Union's public policy work can be found online at ConsumersUnion.org.

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