Questions and Answers about the proposed Tech Industry Consumer Organization (TICO)
How a Canadian TICO with 1 million members and a $20-30 million annual budget can be formed
WHAT IS THE TECH INDUSTRY CONSUMER ORGANIZATION (TICO)?
The Tech Industry Consumer Organization (TICO) is a proposed federally chartered, non-profit organization designed to represent and educate consumers on tech industry issues. The TICO will advocate for fair service from tech industry companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Tik Tok etc.) before industry regulators, the government and the courts. It will also educate tech consumers on issues such as fees, privacy, harassment etc.
The TICO model is based upon Citizen Utility Boards (CUBs) which have been established in four states in the U.S. In these states, all of the utilities were required to enclose a one-page pamphlet in their billing envelopes inviting people to join the CUB. About five percent of consumers usually join the CUB at a $40 annual membership fee. CUBs are independent, broad-based watchdog groups that are run democratically by their members and represent consumers’ interests in the marketplace. For example, in Illinois the CUB has 150,000 members, a $1.5 million annual budget, and has saved consumers more than $20 billion since 1983 by opposing rate hikes by utilities.
According to a national survey of Canadians, 64% of Canadians support the creation of the citizen watchdog groups using the pamphlet/email method.
In addition, a national coalition made up of 31 citizen groups with a total membership of 1.5 million Canadians supports the creation of citizen groups to watch over industry sectors using the pamphlet/email method.
HOW WILL THE TICO BE SET UP AND HOW WILL IT WORK?
To set up the TICO, the federal government must require federally-regulated Internet tech companies to include a notice at the top of every email they send to their 30 million customers and, for anyone who still receives mailings from these companies, 1-2 times each year to include a pamphlet in the same envelope.
Alternatively, the tech companies could volunteer to enclose the notice in their emails, and the pamphlet in their mailings, and as long as enough large companies volunteered enough tech consumers would receive the email notice and pamphlet to make the TICO viable.
The notice at the top of emails that tech companies send their customers will say something like “Need help from an independent consumer group dedicated only to helping you, click here to join the Tech Industry Consumer Organization (TICO). The pamphlet that tech companies would enclose in mailings to their customers will describe the TICO and invite consumers to join at a nominal annual membership fee ($20-30 — with a lower fee for people with low incomes). The government can either lend or grant to the TICO the funds needed to print the first pamphlet. After the first pamphlet, however, the TICO will pay all the costs of the pamphlet. As a result, the TICO can be set up at little or no cost to government or the tech companies.
If only about three percent of Canadian tech company customers join the TICO, it will have one million members and a $20-30 million annual budget. With these resources and large membership base, the TICO will be strong enough to counter the power of the big tech and big data companies.
The TICO will be a democratic organization, controlled by its members through the election of regional delegates and the TICO’s board of directors. The board will hire the TICO’s professional staff and determine the group’s policies.
WHAT WILL THE TICO DO?
The TICO will hire economists, experts, organizers, lobbyists and attorneys to represent consumers.
The TICO will also educate consumers through price surveys, public forums, shopping guides and various other publications.
WHY IS THE TICO NEEDED IN CANADA?
The tech companies are amongst the largest and most powerful companies in the world. There have been ongoing complaints about privacy invasions, harassment, gouging and other abuses by these companies, including encouraging and spreding misinformation and disinformation to undermine elections and policy-making. In addition, many groups representing women, visible minorities and people with low incomes have documented discrimination by these companies.
Consumers are an important part of Canada’s Internet tech industry system, but because of lack of resources their voice is not strong enough to be heard by governments, especially given the enormous resources and strength of the tech industry lobby. The TICO will give act as an umbrella group to bring together consumers and existing consumer groups an organized voice for their interests on tech industry issues in the marketplace.
With tech industry companies offering many products and services that are highly technical, consumers often lack the information needed to ensure they are served fairly and well and are not abused in any way. The TICO will also provide this information, encouraging competition in the marketplace and better service for all tech consumers.
For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign