48 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2014 Last revised: 22 Sep 2015
Date Written: October 27, 2014
Consumers are under siege. A flood of information is forcing consumers to abandon rational decision-making. The very laws designed to help consumers navigate information — mandated disclosures — are causing them to become even more overwhelmed. Reducing mandated disclosures will lessen information overload and empower consumer choice. This is the dominant message from politicians, agency officials, and academics. Unfortunately, it is wrong.
Although consumers are faced with vast amounts of information, mandated disclosures are not solely responsible for the sea of data. Corporate strategy is the biggest source of overload. Some companies appear to intentionally confuse consumers through information flooding — submerging bad facts about their products or services in volumes of irrelevant information. Inexpensive, web-based data sources have made information flooding worse than ever. Yet, consumer decision-making is also empowered like never before. In the face of information onslaught, the market has given rise to specialized intermediaries to curate data for consumers, providing convenient access to salient information through apps and handheld devices.
Understanding information flooding significantly shifts the conversation about how to empower consumer choice. Market solutions, rather than futile attempts to reform mandated disclosures, are the key to keeping consumers empowered and informed. In the rare cases where information overload harms consumer choice, government should promote the expansion of intermediaries rather than trying in vain to outrun corporate innovation.
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