What is Customer Commons?
The mission of Customer Commons, a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit, is to restore the balance of power, respect and trust between individuals and organizations that serve them. We stand with the individual and therefore do not take contributions from commercial entities. We are run and funded by customers.
Building on the work of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center, Customer Commons provides individuals with the knowledge and tools they need to shape their online relationships. We believe this is increasingly important in a world where online and offline activities are rapidly merging. Big data, behavioral tracking, mobile geo location and other emerging data collection practices are altering the fabric of our shared social and economic relationships.
Customer Commons holds a vision of the customer as an independent actor who retains autonomous control over his or her personal data, desires and intentions. In this vision, each of us will act as the optimal point of integration and origination for data about us. Customers must be able to share their data and intentions selectively and voluntarily. Individuals must also be able to know exactly what information is being held about them by those who gather it, by whatever means. To achieve this, customers must be able to assert their own terms of engagement, in ways that are both practical and easy to understand for all sides.
Customer Commons believes that informed and empowered customers, free to make unbiased choices based on their own intentions, are more powerful and engaged participants in the marketplace. Free customers are more valuable to themselves, to vendors and to the market economy, than captive ones. Data from free customers that is volunteered intentionally is a far more useful form of economic signaling than either coerced data from captive customers, or from invisible surveillance. As the Internet increasingly comes to dominate global communications and commerce, informed and autonomous customers will become critical to a healthy, civil, democratic society.
What We Do
As a public-facing organization focused on the emerging issues at the intersection of the empowered customer and the public good, Customer Commons seeks to both educate and inspire change for customers worldwide. We do this through research, educational initiatives and promotion of customer-side tools.
Customer Commons seeks to meet customers where they naturally are, while offering a way forward that demonstrates practical alternatives. Our work is grounded in research exploring public attitudes toward customer relationships with vendors, online and offline. We also research solutions under development, seeking to understand, present and advocate viable approaches. This information supports the development of new tools and methods while also informing the larger Internet policy conversation and our vision of an empowered individual in the context of a healthy and dynamic market-based system.
All of Customer Commons’ programs reflect the values of truly transparent and flexible methods for individuals to maintain their unique voices in relationship to other entities in the marketplace. Therefore, we support technological approaches that are primarily personal, not social, designed from the outset to help customers clearly express their own intent. Our work will help customers engage in equal and open relationships that do not lock them in to a single set of solutions. We believe the market will support independent customers. With truly engaged customers, businesses, governments and institutions of all kinds will have countless more willing hands, heads and hearts to solve the problems of our world, while creating prosperity for all.