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

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
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
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

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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

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Tips for fixing credit report errors yourself (don't ever use a credit repair doctor) | Ed Mierzwinski

Fox Business reporter Kelly Dilworth has a detailed "how-to" called "10 surefire steps to get errors off your credit reports." Don't go to a credit repair doctor, don't read a bunch of wacky advice on self-help websites, don't do any of that, Do what she says.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB, FDIC, Fed and OCC slap AmEx Credit Card for numerous violations | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED) Four federal financial regulators have announced an order for at least $85 million in restitution and $27.5 million in penalties alleging a variety of violations of equal credit opportunity, debt collection and credit reporting laws by the American Express credit card. From the CFPB: "at every stage of the consumer experience, from marketing to enrollment to payment to debt collection, American Express violated consumer protection laws."

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB says 1 in 5 credit scores sold to consumers have "meaningful" differences from scores lenders use | Ed Mierzwinski

The CFPB has confirmed what consumer advocates have been saying all along. Credit scores heavily marketed to consumers aren't the same as those used by lenders; at least 1 in 5 consumer scores have "meaningful" differences and that "score discrepancies may generate consumer harm." That's why we call them FAKO scores.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

More credit card banks quit evil ways | Ed Mierzwinski

In July, the CFPB slammed Capital One for tricking consumers into buying over-priced, under-performing credit monitoring and debt-cancellation subscription products. More good news: the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bank of America has stopped selling debt cancellation products and that Citibank is in some sort of timeout.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

New York Times is running a bank fees debate, seeks comments | Ed Mierzwinski

Over at the New York Times, you can join a debate on bank fees. Meanwhile, the CFPB has extended its comment period seeking your views on overdraft fees until June 29.

> 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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