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 Consumers

Watch for updates and links to materials discussed at the 8 May FinTech and Consumers event. Here is a link to the updated (May 7) background paper: FinTech and Consumers.

 

Past 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

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in Case Affecting Consumers Nationwide

U.S. PIRG experts comment on a case heard before the Supreme Court Monday concerning whether American Express rules preventing merchants from steering customers to alternative lower-cost cards violate the antitrust laws. Hint: We agree with and supported several states that brought the case on behalf of their citizens. We also make the point that unless the states prevail, the practices of dominant tech platforms like Google and Amazon and Facebook will also be immunized from action.

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

Consumer Advocates Explain Crucial Public Interest in a Strong CFPB

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) independence from external political influence is crucial to the agency’s mission of protecting consumers, 10 groups, including U.S. PIRG Education Fund, told a U.S. appellate court today in an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The groups are supporting the appeal of CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English in her lawsuit against the President and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney over the proper leadership of the Bureau in the absence of a Senate-confirmed director.

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

Joint Statement: Transfer of CFPB Consumer Response Unit Offers No Clear Benefit

This week, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, now also acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made several concerning "administrative changes," including to move the Consumer Response Office, responsible for handling consumer complaints and managing the Bureau's public consumer complaint database, which U.S. PIRG has relied on for 11 (so far) analytic studies of the consumer financial marketplace. We issued the following joint statement, along with Americans for Financial Reform and Consumer Action.

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

Statement on Equifax’s Lock & Alert Product Announcement

Our statement on the today's launch by Equifax of Lock & Alert, a service that will let consumers lock and unlock their Equifax credit reports indefinitely for free to stop new account identity theft. This service, similar to state mandated credit freezes, only blocks access to Equifax credit reports, not credit reports at the other two bureaus, Experian and TransUnion. U.S. PIRG's advice: Blocking access to your credit reports at all three national credit bureaus remains the best action consumers can take after the Equifax breach, whether they were affected by it or not. 

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

U.S. PIRG Urges Consumers to Get Free Credit Freeze by January 31st Deadline

Ahead of three changes to what Equifax is offering consumers following its breach of 145 million consumer records, U.S. PIRG is urging consumers to get free credit freezes with Equifax by January 31st if they haven’t already.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in Case Affecting Consumers Nationwide

U.S. PIRG experts comment on a case heard before the Supreme Court Monday concerning whether American Express rules preventing merchants from steering customers to alternative lower-cost cards violate the antitrust laws. Hint: We agree with and supported several states that brought the case on behalf of their citizens. We also make the point that unless the states prevail, the practices of dominant tech platforms like Google and Amazon and Facebook will also be immunized from action.

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

Consumer Advocates Explain Crucial Public Interest in a Strong CFPB

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) independence from external political influence is crucial to the agency’s mission of protecting consumers, 10 groups, including U.S. PIRG Education Fund, told a U.S. appellate court today in an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The groups are supporting the appeal of CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English in her lawsuit against the President and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney over the proper leadership of the Bureau in the absence of a Senate-confirmed director.

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

Joint Statement: Transfer of CFPB Consumer Response Unit Offers No Clear Benefit

This week, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, now also acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made several concerning "administrative changes," including to move the Consumer Response Office, responsible for handling consumer complaints and managing the Bureau's public consumer complaint database, which U.S. PIRG has relied on for 11 (so far) analytic studies of the consumer financial marketplace. We issued the following joint statement, along with Americans for Financial Reform and Consumer Action.

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

Statement on Equifax’s Lock & Alert Product Announcement

Our statement on the today's launch by Equifax of Lock & Alert, a service that will let consumers lock and unlock their Equifax credit reports indefinitely for free to stop new account identity theft. This service, similar to state mandated credit freezes, only blocks access to Equifax credit reports, not credit reports at the other two bureaus, Experian and TransUnion. U.S. PIRG's advice: Blocking access to your credit reports at all three national credit bureaus remains the best action consumers can take after the Equifax breach, whether they were affected by it or not. 

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

U.S. PIRG Urges Consumers to Get Free Credit Freeze by January 31st Deadline

Ahead of three changes to what Equifax is offering consumers following its breach of 145 million consumer records, U.S. PIRG is urging consumers to get free credit freezes with Equifax by January 31st if they haven’t already.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest (9th) in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

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

Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees

Overdraft fees are a major source of consumer pain, since they are borne disproportionately by Americans with few financial resources. Through the first three quarters of 2016, 626 large banks reported collecting $8.4 billion in revenue from overdraft and NSF fees, an increase of 3.6 percent over the same period in 2015. American consumers should look to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has already enforced overdraft regulations and returned millions of dollars to consumers, to take new action to prevent unfair overdraft fees.

> Keep Reading
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

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

The End for "Rent-A-Tribe" Payday Lending Schemes? | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, Scott Tucker, a payday lender who used his proceeds to fund a LeMans racing team, was sentenced to 16 years in jail on federal racketeering and other charges.   Last fall, his former business partner Charles Hallinan, known as the Philadelphia Main Line "godfather" of payday lending, was also convicted of federal racketeering charges. Tucker and Hallinan's main business model? Their claim that their payday loan enterprises were for the benefit of Native American tribal partners and therefore subject to tribal immunity. The authoritative public interest law firm Public Justice speculates: "Tribal Immunity" may no longer be a Get-Out-of-Jail Free Card for payday lenders." It's about time.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Education Fund Files Amicus Brief in the U.S. Supreme Court Supporting States in Antitrust Litigation Against American Express | Michael Landis

On July 6, 2017, U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed with the U.S. Supreme Court an amicus brief supporting several states who are asking the Court to review a Second Circuit judgment that allows American Express to prohibit merchants from encouraging customers to use lower-priced payment options.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

PHH v. CFPB: The Latest Attack on the Consumer Bureau | Michael Landis

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 24, the full D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in PHH v. CFPB—a case that could have a significant impact on the work of the most effective consumer protection agency that we have. Check out this blog and new short video from PIRG Litigation Director Mike Landis on why the idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs no defense, only more defenders.

> Keep Reading
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

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