Advancing Consumer Advocacy through Research

Aug 14, 2023

Research plays an important role in putting an end to consumer injustices. By bringing to light important findings that affect everyday people, research helps consumers, advocates, and the legal community push for a more just and equitable marketplace. 

Investing in research is an investment in OCJ’s vision for a consumer-justice movement led by Oregonians.

Research can illuminate systems, practices, and underlying structures that perpetuate inequality and exploitation. These insights will inform OCJ’s strategies for advocacy, engagement, and litigation, and provide important context and compelling evidence for better policies. When done right, research can elevate the experiences of consumers and their communities, amplifying the voices of those most impacted by harmful business practices. 

As OCJ dives into the long-term work of building a movement for consumer justice, we are committed to understanding the most important issues consumers in Oregon are facing and using all tools available, including the power of research.

One of OCJ’s early initiatives comes through a partnership with the University of Oregon. The court order that created OCJ also commits $300,000 annually to the University of Oregon to fund research that advances consumer protection throughout the state. This partnership underscores the importance of academia in advancing consumer advocacy and fosters collaborations that inform and empower consumers and OCJ’s programming.

The University of Oregon has established the Oregon Consumer Protection Fund, which convenes a committee annually to review applications and award grants for research into consumer protection. 

That committee, which includes UO faculty and staff, OCJ staff, and community leaders, wrapped up its second grant cycle earlier this year, awarding a total of $265,936 in grants to twelve projects led by both faculty and graduate students. The funded projects cover a range of consumer-related research areas. A summary of some of the awarded projects follows:

    1) “The Perils of Crypto for Consumers in the Age of the Metaverse and Artificial Intelligence”:  This research aims to address the threats that consumers investing in cryptocurrency may face in the larger digital context of AI and the “metaverse.” Researchers seek to understand consumers that might be particularly vulnerable and the factors that contribute to risky decisions. The study further aims to provide insights for building market regulations and empowering consumers with knowledge and tools for protection.

    2) “Measuring the Effectiveness of Mortgage Servicing Standards: Evidence from Senate Bill 98 of the 2017 Oregon Legislature”: In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 98, which imposed new standards and regulations on companies that service mortgages in Oregon. This research examines the impact of those standards on mortgage-related complaints, delinquencies, interest rates, and homelessness. In particular, researchers aim to look at how these impacts may play out differently in different communities, including among high-income and low-income consumers, as well as by age, race, and ethnicity, if possible.

    3) “Protecting Consumers’ Financial Contributions to Rewards-Based Crowdfunding Campaigns”: This proposal is a deep dive into “rewards-based crowdfunding,” a funding model used on websites like Kickstarter where individuals contribute money to support a project or venture in exchange for non-financial rewards, such as early access to products or exclusive experiences. The research will examine how companies address production difficulties and plans to help companies develop protocols to protect consumers in making decisions.

    4) “Digital Sanctuary: Harnessing Consumer Data Privacy Law to Reinforce Oregon’s Sanctuary Status”: This project investigates the connections between Oregon’s recently enacted data privacy law, the online data of immigrant Oregonian consumers, and Oregon’s sanctuary laws. While the 2023 data privacy law doesn’t directly regulate state entities, the 2021 Sanctuary Promise Act strictly limits information sharing and cooperation between public bodies and federal immigration authorities. This research proposal will examine how the data privacy bill impacts immigrant consumers and how Oregon’s laws can be improved to better protect sensitive data and provide greater digital sanctuary.

    These summaries represent just a few examples of the diverse consumer-related research projects funded by the Consumer Protection Research Grant program.

    The selected projects will generate valuable insights into consumer behavior, consumer protection policies, and the implications of emerging technologies for consumers.  Understanding the complexity of consumer issues and their interactions with government and corporate systems strengthens our collective ability to overcome barriers and ensure a life of dignity, abundance, and economic opportunity for all Oregonians.

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