Digital Data and Consumer Protection: Ensuring a Fair and Equitable Financial Marketplace

Webcast from release event for Frank Pasquale's book, "Black Box Society," Monday 11 May 2015, 9AM-12 PM Noon — Please scroll forward: The footage begins at 33 min. 38 seconds.

A Project of US PIRG Education Fund with the Center for Digital Democracy

Latest Event: FinTech and Big Data: 6 December 2016

On 6 December 2016 we convened 45 consumer, civil rights, small business and other leaders to discuss recent Fintech developments, including the implications of a proposal by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to allow fintech firms to organize under a special charter under the National Bank Act that would provide them with many of the powers of national banks to evade state law consumer protections even though they aren't banks and aren't subject to the same responsibilities of banks. Here is the event home page with more information.

Click here to learn more about the project's Monday, 1 May 2015 event with author and professor Frank Pasquale discussed his  book "The Black Box Society," on the growing use of secret algorithms to categorize consumers.

About this project: American consumers face new challenges and opportunities to their financial security as our economy is transformed by the convergence of digital media with “Big Data” technologies. Our use of mobile phones, social media, “apps,” and other online tools have created new ways for us to spend, save and borrow money. Powerful forces are at work, however, that can undermine a consumer’s ability to make the best choices and may place those already financially at risk even more vulnerable. The digital data-driven economy continually gathers vast amounts of information on individuals, online and offline, which is used to create a “profile” about our spending habits, behavior and our geo-location. These profiles can be “scored”—an invisible measure known only to the marketer and data brokers—that can determine whether we are offered high interest credit cards, payday and for-profit college loans and even what we may pay at retail and grocery stores.  The uses of the information can be positive or, absent any regulation or meaningful protections, lead to discrimination, price manipulation or denied opportunity.

Our collected personal information is merged into an ever-expanding database of information that enables firms we may know about and many others we don’t know to engage in personalized high-tech marketing and advertising practices designed to get us—and our families—to continually spend more money. In today’s online world, a consumer can be targeted for offers nearly 24/7, whether we use a mobile phone, computer, or while watching TV.

American consumers do not have meaningful safeguards for these data analytics and digital marketing practices, including both protecting their privacy and preventing misuse of their information to deny economic opportunity. USPIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) are working together to ensure that consumers are treated fairly by this new digital “wild west” financial marketplace.

Case Studies and Reports:

Law Review Articles:

Selling Consumers Not Lists: The New World of Digital Decision-Making and the Role of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Suffolk University Law Review, (December 2013)

Available Video and Webinar Presentations:

Video archive of the “Data, Lending, and Civil Rights” conference at Georgetown University, 8 April 2015, (agenda and information) sponsored by Americans for Financial Reform, The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. (Ed Mierzwinski’s panel begins at approximately 2h45m and Ed’s main remarks at approximately 3h2m30sec.)

USPIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy acknowledge the support of the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment and the Digital Trust Foundation for support of our research and education work on data and financial opportunity. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the work, events, reports and investigations are those of the authors and organizations alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundations.

Licensing: All materials developed under this project are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, which allows you to reuse the materials with attribution subject (in part) to the following terms.

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

NOTE: The project may not hold the rights to all images (which we may have purchased for limited uses) or report designs (which may be held by the designers.

For this project's content, this licensing notice supercedes any alternate copyright or older Creative Commons notices that may appear elsewhere on these websites.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

OUR TAKE ON THE LATEST ATTACK ON THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU | Michael Landis

Though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds itself under constant attack. The most recent is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. U.S. PIRG Education Fund—along with nine other consumer and civil rights organizations—filed an amicus brief in support of the CFPB’s request for a rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit. The Department of Justice also filed a brief in support of the CFPB’s request. It is important that the October ruling is corrected so that the CFPB remains a strong and independent agency that looks out for consumers.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Overdrafts continue to hit students hard on campus

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a report shining a spotlight on contracts between banks and colleges to promote debit cards on campus.  Students continue to get hit hard with overdraft fees attached to their campus bank accounts. According to the report, nearly one in ten consumers in the population with student accounts incurred 10 or more  overdrafts per year, paying, on average, $196 in overdraft fees alone. Below is a detailed analysis by US. PIRG's Chris Lindstrom, who championed the protections that the CFPB is reporting on. This report is one more example of why we need a strong CFPB. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Consumers Should Demand Security Freezes After Massive Yahoo Breach

In the wake of the recently-announced Yahoo data breach -- apparently the largest security breach ever, exposing the personal information of 500 million consumers -- PIRG offers consumer tips, demands that Yahoo provide free security freezes to affected consumers who could be at risk of "phishing" schemes to commit fraud on existing accounts or open new fraudulent accounts.  We also ask: Why did it take Yahoo two years to notify the public?

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

NYT Points Out Overdraft Fees Still A Problem | Ed Mierzwinski

A major article in today's New York Times, "Overdraft Practices Continue to Gut Bank Accounts and Haunt Customers," points out that while 2010 reforms put in place by the pre-CFPB regulators have helped, there's still work to be done to protect consumers from unfair overdraft practices. While years ago banks used "bounced check" fees to deter what was then seen as a negative behavior, more recently they have encouraged overdrafts by offering "standard overdraft protection" as if it is a feature, not a bug. They've made billions.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Financial Reform

Citi shareholders gathered in NY demand lobbying disclosure

 

NEW YORK, NY - Citigroup shareholders gathered today in New York City for their annual meeting and outrage over Citi’s role in the financial crisis was still palpable in the room.  A major topic of interest was a shareholder proposal that would require the company to disclose its lobbying expenditures to its investors, one of over 100 resolutions on political activity filed this season.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Overdrafts continue to hit students hard on campus

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a report shining a spotlight on contracts between banks and colleges to promote debit cards on campus.  Students continue to get hit hard with overdraft fees attached to their campus bank accounts. According to the report, nearly one in ten consumers in the population with student accounts incurred 10 or more  overdrafts per year, paying, on average, $196 in overdraft fees alone. Below is a detailed analysis by US. PIRG's Chris Lindstrom, who championed the protections that the CFPB is reporting on. This report is one more example of why we need a strong CFPB. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Consumers Should Demand Security Freezes After Massive Yahoo Breach

In the wake of the recently-announced Yahoo data breach -- apparently the largest security breach ever, exposing the personal information of 500 million consumers -- PIRG offers consumer tips, demands that Yahoo provide free security freezes to affected consumers who could be at risk of "phishing" schemes to commit fraud on existing accounts or open new fraudulent accounts.  We also ask: Why did it take Yahoo two years to notify the public?

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Financial Reform

Citi shareholders gathered in NY demand lobbying disclosure

 

NEW YORK, NY - Citigroup shareholders gathered today in New York City for their annual meeting and outrage over Citi’s role in the financial crisis was still palpable in the room.  A major topic of interest was a shareholder proposal that would require the company to disclose its lobbying expenditures to its investors, one of over 100 resolutions on political activity filed this season.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Buying homes, getting jobs and borrowing money will be easier after an agreement by the three biggest U.S. consumer credit reporting services with New York.[...] “It’s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints,” said [U.S. PIRG's Ed] Mierzwinski. “The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now. They’re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

New Report Examines Promise and Potential Dangers of New Financial Marketplace

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) released a comprehensive new report today focused on the realities of the new financial marketplace and the threats and opportunities its use poses to financial inclusion. The report examines the impact of digital technology, especially the unprecedented analytical and real-time actionable powers of “Big Data,” on consumer welfare. The groups immediately filed the report with the White House Big Data review headed by John Podesta, who serves as senior counselor to the President.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

Big Data Means Big Opportunities and Big Challenges

This report examines the growing use of "Big Data" in financial decision-making, especially in a digital marketplace characterized more and more by the use of mobile phones. It explains the opportunities to use Big Data to promote financial opportunity and the threat of financial exclusion, discrimination or higher prices for some consumers if Big Data is not used properly. The report makes recommendations to advocates, industry and regulators.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states. They found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits).

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Ten Reasons Why We Need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now

This report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and helped collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values. It explains these and other emerging problems as “10 Reasons We Need The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now.”

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 392 bank branches in 21 states and reviewed bank fees online in 12 others.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

OUR TAKE ON THE LATEST ATTACK ON THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU | Michael Landis

Though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds itself under constant attack. The most recent is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. U.S. PIRG Education Fund—along with nine other consumer and civil rights organizations—filed an amicus brief in support of the CFPB’s request for a rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit. The Department of Justice also filed a brief in support of the CFPB’s request. It is important that the October ruling is corrected so that the CFPB remains a strong and independent agency that looks out for consumers.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

NYT Points Out Overdraft Fees Still A Problem | Ed Mierzwinski

A major article in today's New York Times, "Overdraft Practices Continue to Gut Bank Accounts and Haunt Customers," points out that while 2010 reforms put in place by the pre-CFPB regulators have helped, there's still work to be done to protect consumers from unfair overdraft practices. While years ago banks used "bounced check" fees to deter what was then seen as a negative behavior, more recently they have encouraged overdrafts by offering "standard overdraft protection" as if it is a feature, not a bug. They've made billions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Anthem Customers and Others: Some Advice On Steps To Take After Data Breach | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED (9 Feb.) Retail store data breaches make a mess, but an easy one to clean up and the few consumers who become fraud victims are quickly made whole. The Anthem hackers, on the other hand, reportedly obtained a mother lode of information that could be used to commit a variety of serious frauds, including obtaining your tax refund. Read our tips here. Here's the first: Don't click on any emails claiming to be from Anthem; some may be malicious.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

On Memorial Day, Thank Servicemembers and Veterans and Thank the CFPB for Protecting Them | Ed Mierzwinski

On this Memorial Day, celebrate servicemembers and veterans. It's important that the CFPB has their backs, since predatory lenders are after their wallets.  As I often say, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB complaints help recover $90 million for servicemembers | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education and the FDIC slammed student loan company Sallie Mae and a spinoff, ordering over $6 million in penalties and $90 million in compensation to servicemembers and veterans. Complaints to the CFPB's public database helped build the case. As the CFPB's director said in an important speech last week: "Each consumer’s voice counts and the chorus of many voices can change practices at these large financial companies."

> Keep Reading

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