Non-profit

Center for Digital Democracy

Website:

www.democraticmedia.org/

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

52-2311577

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $64,766
Expenses: $487,243
Assets: $258,871

Formation:

2001

Executive Director:

Jeff Chester

Type:

Corporation

Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) is a left-of-center advocacy organization founded in 2001 that promotes the increased regulation of internet and technology companies. [1] CDD has participated in antitrust litigation to reduce the power of technology companies and pressured federal agencies to impose regulations on data collection and advertising. [2] [3]

Anti-Market Advocacy

The Digital Health Program

CDD works to regulate data collection in the online space through anti-market campaigns. CDD organizes its Digital Health program to seek increased regulations on medical marketing and data collection online. CDD routinely advocates against the collection of medical data by any private companies. In 2020, the Trump administration proposed a policy change that would allow Americans to download their personal medical records onto their smartphones, then provide that data to health and fitness apps of their own volition. CDD decried the measure, with executive director Jeff Chester claiming that patients should not have the authority to download their own personal data and give it to companies because it would allow corporations to have “insights” into their lives. [4]

In 2020, CDD launched a report claiming that the use of the federal food stamps program (known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) on online grocery services during the COVID-19 pandemic would expose users to “intrusive and manipulative” advertising for unhealthy foods by giving companies access to their personal data. Chester claimed that the program would allow food retailers to behave in a “predatory” fashion towards SNAP users, despite the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) already has requirements in place which bar retailers from selling or sharing SNAP participant data. [5] CDD acknowledged that these advertising practices are standard, but nonetheless claimed that SNAP participants would be disproportionately harmed by them. [6] The report was funded by the left-of-center Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and produced in coordination with Color of Change, UnidosUS, and the Berkeley Media Studies Group, left-of-center research and advocacy organizations. [7]

CDD has advocated for a number of other state interventions into the private medical market, including pressuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban pharmaceutical companies from using music in drug advertisements. [8] CDD contended that the music was meant to “distract” consumers from understanding the risks of the drugs being advertised in order to sell more products. CDD filed a petition with the FDA in August of 2020 to call for the adoption of the ban. [9]

The Digital Youth Program

Much of CDD’s work focuses on advocating for regulations that prohibit media companies from advertising to children and prohibit minors from accessing certain online content. CDD advocates for the federal government to strengthen the regulations established through the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a bill that aims to regulate minors’ access to online content that the CDD supported in the 1990s. [10] [11]

CDD has routinely argued that the sweeping regulation does not go far enough. In 2019, CDD led a coalition of left-of-center organizations that filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Alphabet’s YouTube, claiming that the outlet had violated COPPA by collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent. [12] The coalition included left-of-center and left-wing organizations including US-PIRG, Public Citizen, and Common Sense. [13]

CDD asked the FTC to impose the “maximum civil penalties” on YouTube for using personalized advertising towards children. [14] These included demands for a 20-year consent decree on YouTube, the destruction of all data on children, and the prohibition of children under 13 from accessing YouTube. [15] CDD also called on YouTube to ban all children-focused channels from the platform and force them onto a separate platform specifically for children. [16]

The FTC denied CDD’s request, instead settling with Google, YouTube’s parent company, for $170 million after Google promised to make several policy changes. [17] Even after YouTube unveiled a series of privacy rules which included eliminating all personalized advertisements on children’s videos, disabling the chat function on content made for children, and disabling live chatting, the CDD called their actions an “insufficient response.” [18]

The same coalition called on the FTC in December of 2019 to subpoena digital media companies to share information on how they advertise to children and store data related to children, targeting companies like Disney, Google, and TikTok. [19] Six months later, CDD claimed that TikTok had violated COPPA by failing to take down all videos made by children under 13, which it had agreed to do in February of 2019. [20] In December of 2020, CDD claimed victory when the FTC required nine large technology companies to disclose their data collection practices. [21]

Aside from preventing children from accessing particular content, CDD works to bar advertisers from marketing towards children. In July of 2020, CDD pushed the USDA to ban food companies from marketing towards children on online learning platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. [22]

The Digital Consumer Program

The CDD also works to regulate data collection by private companies for adult consumers, claiming that companies sell consumers as “products” to advertising companies. [23] In January of 2020, CDD joined a coalition of more than fifty left-of-center advocacy organizations to push Google to implement increased data security measures on its smartphones. [24] The coalition included organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). [25]

The CDD has criticized data collection by private companies even after online adult users have signed consent statements, calling online data collection a “daisy chain of data-gathering.” [26] CDD has even criticized left-of-center proposals surrounding data collection. In February of 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) proposed that Californians should receive a “data dividend” in which the state government would force technology companies to pay consumers whenever they sell consumer data to advertisers. [27] CDD criticized the move, claiming it would “regularize” the idea of selling personal data and increase data collection. The organization’s executive director called instead for heavy regulation to prevent data collection in the first place. [28]

CDD has also engaged in litigation in an attempt to regulate technology companies. In 2019, CDD sued Google alongside other left-of-center organizations, including the ACLU, claiming that Google vehicles had collected personal information from unsecured Wi-Fi networks as they scanned streets for Google Maps. [29] CDD agreed to a settlement from Google for $13 million, with CDD controversially listed as one of the beneficiaries of the settlement, rather than anyone who had actually had their data collected by Google. [30] CDD has further supported efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to sue Google on the grounds of violating anti-trust laws. [31]

Leadership

Jeff Chester is the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Chester earned a Master of social work from University of California, Berkeley in 1979. [32] Chester has worked as executive director of the CDD since 1991. [33] During the 2020 election cycle, Chester made small-dollar donations totaling over $3,500 to ActBlue, a Democratic fundraising platform; Biden for President, the presidential campaign infrastructure supporting Joe Biden; and the Markey Committee, a PAC supporting the reelection of U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). [34]

Katharina Kopp is the deputy director for CDD. She earned a Ph.D. in communications in 1997 from the University of Pennsylvania and has since held multiple positions in digital privacy. [35] Prior to her tenure with the CDD, which began in 2016, Kopp worked as the director and then vice president of global privacy for American Express. [36]

Kathryn Montgomery is the research director and senior strategist for CDD. She earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1991, Montgomery founded the  the Center for Media Education, the predecessor to the CDD, and worked as its president until 2003. From 2003 through 2018, Montgomery taught communications at American University; she has held the title of professor emeritus since joining CDD in a full-time capacity. [37]

References

  1. “CDD History.” Center for Digital Democracy. Accessed December 15, 2020. https://www.democraticmedia.org/history. ^
  2. Kuttner, Robert. “What Do You Get When You Google ‘Antitrust’?” The American Prospect, September 25, 2020. https://prospect.org/blogs/tap/what-do-you-get-when-you-google-antitrust/. ^
  3. Rasul, Nicole. “COVID Brought SNAP Users Online. Advocates Say Mega-Retailers Are Selling Them Junk Food.” Civil Eats, July 30, 2020. https://civileats.com/2020/07/23/covid-brought-snap-users-online-advocates-say-mega-retailers-are-selling-them-junk-food/. ^
  4. Tahir, Darius, and Adam Cancryn. “Trump’s next Health Care Move: Giving Silicon Valley Your Medical Data.” POLITICO. POLITICO, February 19, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/19/trump-silicon-valley-medical-115879. ^
  5. Meyersohn, Nathaniel. “Online Grocery Shopping Is Growing, but Millions of Americans on Food Stamps Are Being Left Behind.” WICZ. Accessed December 15, 2020. https://www.wicz.com/story/43017067/online-grocery-shopping-is-growing-but-millions-of-americans-on-food-stamps-are-being-left-behind. ^
  6. Rasul, Nicole. “COVID Brought SNAP Users Online. Advocates Say Mega-Retailers Are Selling Them Junk Food.” Civil Eats, July 30, 2020. https://civileats.com/2020/07/23/covid-brought-snap-users-online-advocates-say-mega-retailers-are-selling-them-junk-food/. ^
  7. Goldschmidt, Bridget. “Online SNAP Program Puts Participants’ Privacy at Risk.” Progressive Grocer, July 16, 2020. https://progressivegrocer.com/online-snap-program-puts-participants-privacy-risk.    ^
  8. Anderson, Maia. “Ban Distracting Music in Drug Ads, Consumers Advocates Urge FDA: Two Advocacy Groups Filed a Citizen’s Petition with the FDA Aug. 3 Asking the Agency to Ban the Use of Music in Prescription Drug Commercials during the Portion That Lists Drugs’ Potential Side Effects. .” Becker’s Hospital Review, August 3, 2020. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/pharmacy/ban-distracting-music-in-drug-ads-consumers-advocates-urge-fda.html. ^
  9. Anderson, Maia. “Ban Distracting Music in Drug Ads, Consumers Advocates Urge FDA: Two Advocacy Groups Filed a Citizen’s Petition with the FDA Aug. 3 Asking the Agency to Ban the Use of Music in Prescription Drug Commercials during the Portion That Lists Drugs’ Potential Side Effects. .” Becker’s Hospital Review, August 3, 2020. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/pharmacy/ban-distracting-music-in-drug-ads-consumers-advocates-urge-fda.html.    ^
  10. Germain, Thomas. “YouTube Unveils New Privacy Rules for Kids Content.” Consumer Reports, January 6, 2020. https://www.consumerreports.org/privacy/youtube-privacy-rules-kids-content/. ^
  11. Singer, Natasha, and Kate Conger. “Google Is Fined $170 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTube.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 4, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/technology/google-youtube-fine-ftc.html. ^
  12. Perez, Sarah. “U.S. Senator and Consumer Advocacy Groups Urge FTC to Take Action on YouTube’s Alleged COPPA Violations.” TechCrunch, June 25, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/25/u-s-senator-and-consumer-advocacy-groups-urge-ftc-to-take-action-on-youtubes-alleged-coppa-violations/. ^
  13. Perez, Sarah. “Over 20 Advocacy Groups Complain to FTC That YouTube Is Violating Children’s Privacy Law.” TechCrunch, April 9, 2018. https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/09/over-20-advocacy-groups-complain-to-ftc-that-youtube-is-violating-childrens-privacy-law/. ^
  14. Perez, Sarah. “U.S. Senator and Consumer Advocacy Groups Urge FTC to Take Action on YouTube’s Alleged COPPA Violations.” TechCrunch, June 25, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/25/u-s-senator-and-consumer-advocacy-groups-urge-ftc-to-take-action-on-youtubes-alleged-coppa-violations/. ^
  15. Perez, Sarah. “U.S. Senator and Consumer Advocacy Groups Urge FTC to Take Action on YouTube’s Alleged COPPA Violations.” TechCrunch, June 25, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/25/u-s-senator-and-consumer-advocacy-groups-urge-ftc-to-take-action-on-youtubes-alleged-coppa-violations/. ^
  16. Perez, Sarah. “U.S. Senator and Consumer Advocacy Groups Urge FTC to Take Action on YouTube’s Alleged COPPA Violations.” TechCrunch, June 25, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/25/u-s-senator-and-consumer-advocacy-groups-urge-ftc-to-take-action-on-youtubes-alleged-coppa-violations/. ^
  17. Singer, Natasha, and Kate Conger. “Google Is Fined $170 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTube.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 4, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/technology/google-youtube-fine-ftc.html. ^
  18. Germain, Thomas. “YouTube Unveils New Privacy Rules for Kids Content.” Consumer Reports, January 6, 2020. https://www.consumerreports.org/privacy/youtube-privacy-rules-kids-content/. ^
  19. Mui, Ylan. “Major Consumer Groups Ask FTC to Look into ‘Predatory’ Data Collection of Children.” CNBC. CNBC, December 6, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/05/consumer-groups-ask-ftc-to-review-digital-media-companies-targeting-children.html. ^
  20. “Advocacy Group Says TikTok Violated FTC Consent Decree and Children’s Privacy Rules.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, May 14, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tiktok-privacy-children-ftc-idUSKBN22Q0E2. ^
  21. Zakrzewski, Cat. “Analysis | The Technology 202: FTC Demands Nine Companies Disclose Their Data Collection Practices.” The Washington Post. WP Company, December 15, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/12/15/technology-202-ftc-demands-nine-companies-disclose-their-data-collection-practices/. ^
  22. “USDA Urged to Protect Kids from Digital Food Marketing on Online Learning Platforms.” Center for Science in the Public Interest, July 13, 2020. https://cspinet.org/news/usda-urged-protect-kids-digital-food-marketing-online-learning-platforms-20200713. ^
  23. “Digital Consumer.” Center for Digital Democracy. Accessed December 15, 2020. https://www.democraticmedia.org/projects/focus/digital-consumer. ^
  24. Morrison, Sara. “‘Privacy Shouldn’t Be a Luxury’: Advocates Want Google to Do More to Secure Cheap Android Phones.” Vox. Vox Media Company, January 17, 2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/1/17/21069417/privacy-international-bloatware-android-google. ^
  25. Morrison, Sara. “‘Privacy Shouldn’t Be a Luxury’: Advocates Want Google to Do More to Secure Cheap Android Phones.” Vox. Vox Media Company, January 17, 2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/1/17/21069417/privacy-international-bloatware-android-google. ^
  26. Hsu, Tiffany. “They Know What You Watched Last Night.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 25, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/25/business/media/streaming-data-collection-privacy.html. ^
  27. Harnett, Sam. “Why Privacy Advocates Are Worried About Newsom’s Call for a ‘Digital Dividend’.” KQED, February 26, 2019. https://www.kqed.org/news/11729086/why-privacy-advocates-are-worried-about-newsoms-call-for-a-digital-dividend. ^
  28. Harnett, Sam. “Why Privacy Advocates Are Worried About Newsom’s Call for a ‘Digital Dividend’.” KQED, February 26, 2019. https://www.kqed.org/news/11729086/why-privacy-advocates-are-worried-about-newsoms-call-for-a-digital-dividend. ^
  29. Iovino, Nicholas. “Opponents Ask Judge to Reject Google ‘Wi-Spy’ Settlement.” CNS. Courthouse News, March 2, 2020. https://www.courthousenews.com/opponents-ask-judge-to-reject-google-wi-spy-settlement/ ^
  30. Iovino, Nicholas. “Opponents Ask Judge to Reject Google ‘Wi-Spy’ Settlement.” CNS. Courthouse News, March 2, 2020. https://www.courthousenews.com/opponents-ask-judge-to-reject-google-wi-spy-settlement/   ^
  31. Kuttner, Robert. “What Do You Get When You Google ‘Antitrust’?” The American Prospect, September 25, 2020. https://prospect.org/blogs/tap/what-do-you-get-when-you-google-antitrust/.    ^
  32. “Jeff Chester.” 2018 keynote – Jeff Chester. European Public Health Conference, 2018.

    https://bit.ly/395LvCp. ^

  33. “Our Staff.” Center for Digital Democracy. Accessed December 15, 2020. https://www.democraticmedia.org/our-staff. ^
  34. “Browse Individual Contributions: Jeffrey Chester.” FEC.gov. Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Accessed December 15, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Jeffrey+Chester. ^
  35. Kopp, Katharina. “The Role of Private Philanthropic Foundations in Communications Policy Making. Defining the ‘Public Interest’: The Ford and Markle Foundations’ Influence on Policy Making at the Federal Communications Commission.” ScholarlyCommons. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9814872/. ^
  36. “International Association of Privacy Professionals.” International Association of Privacy Professionals. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://iapp.org/about/person/0011a00000DlP97AAF/. ^
  37. “Kathryn Montgomery – Professor Emerita.” American University, December 15, 2016. https://www.american.edu/soc/faculty/kcm.cfm. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: December 1, 2001

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990EZ $64,766 $487,243 $258,871 $31,649 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $656,565 $471,025 $679,946 $30,249 N $603,050 $52,315 $1,200 $133,850
    2015 Dec Form 990EZ $100,580 $464,742 $492,559 $28,334 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $656,552 $485,100 $857,715 $29,328 N $640,378 $15,000 $1,174 $120,226 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $462,310 $436,112 $673,385 $16,450 N $426,751 $34,250 $1,309 $117,600 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $423,907 $408,496 $654,571 $23,834 N $406,987 $15,000 $1,920 $117,600 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $541,246 $272,294 $642,910 $27,584 N $462,359 $76,750 $2,137 $117,742 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Center for Digital Democracy

    1875 K STREET NW
    WASHINGTON, DC 20006-1238