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 Education Fund | Financial Reform

New Report Makes Case To Keep CFPB Complaint Database Public

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) acting director continues to threaten to hide the agency’s public Consumer Complaint Database from consumers and researchers, a new report makes a strong case to keep the database public. The report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group was filed as an official public comment in the CFPB’s Request for Information about the database. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Public CFPB Database Comment Period Ends Monday, 4 June at Midnight | Ed Mierzwinski

Monday, June 4, at midnight (ET) marks the deadline for filing public comments on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s latest inward-facing Request For Information (RFI); this one is on the future of the public Consumer Complaint Database, which has been disparaged for years by various bank industry actors and their coin-operated think tanks but most recently by the CFPB’s acting director, Mick Mulvaney. Here's why we are fighting to keep the database public.

> Keep Reading
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

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Consumer Advocates File in Support of Acting CFPB Director Leandra English

This is a joint press release from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and other leading consumer and civil rights organizations explaining our amicus (friend of the court) brief filed today in support of acting CFPB director Leandra English. English was appointed acting director by outgoing director Richard Cordray, but the President has claimed authority to appoint Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney to simultaneously be acting director of the Consumer Bureau. English seeks a preliminary injunction blocking the Mulvaney appointment.

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

Statement On Departure Today of Consumer Bureau Director Richard Cordray

U.S. PIRG and the state PIRGs commend Rich Cordray for his over six years as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s first director. In its short years as the nation’s top consumer cop, all under Director Cordray, the young Bureau has returned $12 billion dollars to over 29 million consumer victims of financial schemes by wrongdoers ranging from Wall Street banks, mortgage companies and for-profit schools to debt collectors, credit bureaus and payday lenders. FULL STATEMENT FOLLOWS.

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

Interactive Map Shows Consumers In 42 States Have No Access To Free Credit Freezes

We've created an interactive map showing all the details of placing credit freezes on your credit report-- where the freeze is free for anyone, where temporary thaws/lifts are free, and where senior citizens, children, other protected classes pay less (or sometimes more). Only previous ID theft victims get freezes for free in every state; that's why we're calling for a new federal free freeze law for everyone else after the Equifax breach. 

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

CFPB Finds Higher Debts for Student Loan Borrowers

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released two important reports on student loans and student loan debt. U.S. PIRG Higher Education Advocate Chris Lindstrom's news release explains more.

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

New report shows victims of aggressive tactics from medical debt collectors

A new U.S. PIRG Education Fund Report documents consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about medical debt. Most complaints are about debt never owed, already paid, or not verified as the consumer's debt. The report demonstrates the ongong need to defend CFPB from speical-interest attacks.

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

Bailout Report Card

U.S. PIRG released a report card on how the bailout had been handled by the administration in terms of transparency and accountability.

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

Halfway to the CFPB

The CFPB Implementation Team staff are making significant progress in their efforts to both build an effective agency and be ready to perform required functions by the transfer date (July 21, 2011).

> Keep Reading

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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
Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Join FTC Event on Big Data E-Scores | Ed Mierzwinski

Companies on the Internet are tracking you with vastly powerful Big Data algorithms to determine what to sell you and for how much and what financial opportunities to offer you. Today at 10am, I join an FTC workshop on Alternative Scoring Products to debate the transparency and fairness of the system with privacy and technology experts from industry, academia and the public interest. You can attend or watch online.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Target says "Oops, 70-110 million consumers hacked." | Ed Mierzwinski

Target is now saying that "a range of 70 million to 110 million people," not the original 40 million customers, had their credit or debit card numbers hacked in December. Even worse, Target is admitting that the database stolen included email addresses and phone numbers, which leaves consumers vulnerable to phishing attacks that could lead to identity theft, as if fraud on existing accounts wasn't enough. Here are some tips.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Gets Results for Consumers In December | Ed Mierzwinski

It's been a good month for consumers and a bad month for corporate crime, as the CFPB continued to hold financial firms accountable for unfair marketplace practices. Let's hope that in the New Year, banks and other financial companies get the message that cheating their customers is a bad business model.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

The CFPB is now taking your credit bureau complaints | Ed Mierzwinski

Excellent news! The CFPB is now taking complaints about credit bureaus and credit reports. And unlike the FTC, the CFPB has been given tools so that it will be able to "help consumers with individual-level complaint assistance on issues with their credit report."

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Consumer complaints about peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo and Square have surged during the pandemic year. In April, there were 970 digital wallet complaints — almost double the previous monthly high from July 2020. PIRG Education Fund analyzed this growing problem for a new analysis of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) Consumer Complaint Database.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

New report documents consumer complaints to the CFPB about digital wallets and peer-to-peer (P2P) apps.

News Release | U.S.PIRG

We've joined the National Consumer Law Center in a news release describing a letter from 21 consumer and faith groups urging her to revoke permission to the credit reporting industry to violate consumer protections. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

With the CFPB under new management less interested in consumer protection and law enforcement, our new report highlights steps states, counties and cities are taking to protect consumers better. Coincidentally, the report was completed on the same day that the U.S. Senate confirmed Kathy Kraninger to a 5-year term as CFPB director. She replaces her mentor, the OMB director Mick Mulvaney, who has been serving as acting CFPB director for just over a year.

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