Typewriter Man: Ralph Nader on the Failure of High-tech Consumer protests

Kirk Victor | Nextgov | June 8, 2012

It’s no exaggeration to say that Ralph Nader launched the modern consumer movement. He emerged on the national stage with the publication of his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which detailed automobile manufacturers’ reckless resistance to safety measures.

Nader used his prominence to attract an army of citizen activists—“Nader’s Raiders”—who joined the battle against corporate and governmental misbehavior. He started the advocacy group Public Citizen as “the people’s voice in the nation’s capital,” and also the U.S. Public Interest Research Group...Nader views the breakthroughs in telecommunications often as distractions rather than tools of empowerment. It’s no easier to mobilize consumers today, he says, than in his low-tech heyday.

In his mind, these advances in technology also carry downsides—notably, by making citizens more vulnerable to corporations employing sophisticated tools to mine personal data and invade privacy. These are dangers that Nader knows firsthand. In the 1960s, automobile executives sought to silence him through investigations and harassment; his lawsuit for invasion of privacy cost General Motors $425,000 and a CEO’s apology. The better the technology, Nader worries now, the easier for corporations to transgress...