How to (Mis)use SaferProducts.gov
Today, I submitted a false report to SaferProducts.gov.
As you've probably heard, the CPSC launched their product safety database this morning. Consumer advocates have been applauding the CPSC for developing the site, while manufacturing associations have lamented it as an error-riddled nightmare for businesses. It's a lot of bravado and ballyhooing for something that didn't properly exist 24 hours ago, and that most people have never used.
So, how does it actually work? I went through the process of submitting a report (about a fictitious company) to see just how easy it is to falsify information. My first impressions is that there's cause for concern.
From beginning to end, the entire process took me fewer than five minutes, and I was able to do it completely anonymously without providing any real information. While the site recommends the submitter provide contact information and as much detail as possible, very little is actually required. In fact, other than selecting what you are (consumer, government agency, and so on), the product category, the incident date (which doesn't need to be exact) and product description, absolutely nothing else is required to submit a complaint.
For the experiment, I set the date as January 1, 2001, which is the furthest date available, made up a description of the product and what happened, provided the company name, and submitted it. There are options to include a serial number, when and where the item was purchased, and other details about the manufacturer, but they aren't mandatory. The CPSC also asks the user for personal information but never demands it; if it is provided, the submitter can choose whether that data is made available to the manufacturer. Once I hit submit, a report number was created and it was in CPSC's hands.
That's it. Pretty simple. It's easy to fill out, and easy to fill out inaccurately. Once submitted, the CPSC has five days to review the report and submit it to the manufacturer, who then has 10 days to respond. Fifteen days after a report is first submitted, it will be published on the website (which is why, when you search right now, you can only find official CPSC recalls).