Exclusive: Web watchdog site shut down by Consumers Union

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Consumer Reports WebWatch, a well-known watchdog site that detailed web-based scams and schemes and worked to educate consumers about online perils, is being shut down by its parent, Consumers Union, Walletpop,com has learned.

WebWatch started eight years ago, and in its early years it was a grant-fueled project backed by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Institute. But that grant ended a few years ago and the non-profit advocacy group Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, had been shouldering the costs since.

"We've decided we're not able to continue it," Consumers Union Vice President Ken Weine said. "It was a dollars and cents issue."



The staff of two, he said, will lose their jobs. WebWatch director Beau Brendler, who has been with the project since the beginning, is already gone.

"I am seeking to continue the type of work WebWatch did on behalf of consumers," Brendler said.

Weine said it is not unusual for grant-funded projects to be shut down after the funding dries up. He said Consumers Union supported the project beyond what it was required to as a condition of receiving the grants. Grant funding started in 2001 and ended in 2005, he said, and Consumers Union continued operations since.

Robert Mayer, a University of Utah professor who served as an advisor to WebWatch, said he wasn't surprised that the project was shut down given the financial situation in the publishing industry and at Consumers Union.

"From a purely practical point of view, I hope that CU continues to make WebWatch's research reports readily available, because I refer to them quite often," he said.

The site is still up and functioning, but Weine said no decisions have been made about whether it will remain up and, if so, in what form.

Note: The author was a consultant to WebWatch several years ago.

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