CDD History

Center for Digital Democracy: Research, Education, and Advocacy in the Digital Era

The Center for Digital Democracy was founded in 2001. But CDD’s work on new media and public policy really began in 1991, when Kathryn Montgomery, Ph.D, and Jeff Chester co-founded the Center for Media Education (CME). CME played a key role during the 1990’s promoting greater public participation in media and telecommunications issues.

CME's work helped lead to:

  • Development of the E-rate (the fund supporting school and library online access)

  • Passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

  • Enactment of the 3-hour FCC rule requiring educational children’s programming for commercial television stations

  • Creation of the Telecommunications Policy Roundtable

CME also played a key leadership role in organizing a broad range of children’s, educational, and library groups to promote a communications policy agenda supporting the healthy development of children and youth. It also led efforts promoting media diversity policies during the debate over the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

CME was instrumental in fighting a number of “big media” deals, including helping secure the open access safeguards as part of the AOL Time Warner merger. It was during the fight over the cable’s industry’s plans for a closed broadband Internet in the late 1990’s (versus an open platform, now known as network neutrality), that the idea to create a new group focused on fostering a vital democratic new media ecology was born.

Through a Stern Family Fund “public interest pioneer” award, CDD was formally launched. Over the last several years CDD has played a major role in:

  • Developing the campaign for an open broadband Internet

  • Helping educate the public about the plans of the phone and cable companies to operate a more tightly-controlled broadband system

  • Leading efforts at the Federal Trade Commission to promote new policies governing online privacy and responsible interactive marketing practices

Through its monitoring and analysis of new media marketplace developments, CDD has served as an “early warning” system for journalists, policymakers and the public about emerging public interest issues. During 2001-2003, CDD played a major role fighting plans for further media consolidation by the FCC. The group also led the effort exposing—and ultimately helping eliminate—plans by officials of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to undermine the journalistic independence of public broadcasting.

In 2007, CDD’s executive director Jeff Chester’s book, “Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy” was published.

Promoting Consumer Rights, Protecting Privacy, Ensuring Transparency, and Empowering the Public in the Digital Era

The new digital marketplace poses both opportunities and risks for consumers. As we increasingly make important decisions about our finances, health, and families using digital media, consumers must be treated fairly. Underneath the ease of discovering information online and buying new products or services is an ever- expanding set of largely invisible and powerful “Big Data”-driven practices that can pose a threat to our welfare and well-being. Today, personal information is collected online and off, usually without the consumer’s knowledge or meaningful consent. We are tracked whether we are using personal computers, mobile phones, gaming devices, or making purchases with a credit or debit card. Our behaviors on websites and mobile devices, conversations using social media, our spending habits and our location are compiled into increasingly ubiquitous—but invisible to us—digital profiles. These electronic dossiers, filled with our personal details, are analyzed and then bought and sold to businesses in real time—mere milliseconds. Our profiles increasingly include e-scores that marketers use to identify what our “long-term value” may be, and which can influence the products we are offered, the prices we pay, and the customer service we receive.

Beyond the use of Big Data, consumers also confront a sophisticated new way to market and sell products using digital media. Marketers are able to influence our decision-making more precisely by using an array of techniques, including social surveillance—mining what we say and do and whom we communicate with on social media; geo-location analysis—knowing precisely where we are and go and what we do; and neuromarketing—using the latest insights on brain research to create interactive ads designed to drive greater unconscious decision-making.

Credit cards, mortgages, college loans, payday loans, and other financial services are increasingly offered online, including via mobile phones. The digital marketplace influences how consumers apply for and even what they pay for these products. The Center for Digital Democracy’s (CDD) mission is to protect the interests of all consumers, including the most vulnerable, in the 21st Century. It has exposed unfair and discriminatory practices, proposed new safeguards, and led to action by regulators. 

Through its research, advocacy, public education, and other leadership activities, CDD stands up for the right of individuals—and their communities—to be treated fairly and equitably in the commercial digital marketplace.