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

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
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.

> Keep Reading
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
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
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

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Volcker Rule Finally Out, Will Require Vigilant Enforcement and Tough Judges

Regulators today released the final so-called Volcker rule designed to prevent Wall Street banks from placing the kinds of risky bets that helped magnify the 2008 mortgage market collapse into a spectacular failure of the financial system leading to trillions of dollars in lost retirement income and the loss of millions of jobs and millions of homes. [...] The final rule is stronger than the proposed rule and stronger than the rule that the banks wanted, reflecting the outpouring of support from citizens across the country, in favor of a robust Volcker rule. [...]

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

New Survey Shows Free Checking Widely Available At Small Banks But Banks Still Hiding Fees from Consumers

A survey of hundreds of banks and credit unions in 24 states and the District of Columbia 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). The survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group also revealed that fewer than half of branches surveyed obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers on the first request, while 12% provided no fee information at all.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

Washington Post: Can’t fix error in your credit report? Call Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

"A much-cited study by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups found that almost 79 percent of all credit reports had some type of error."

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

JPMorgan Chase is sued in 2008 Bear Stearns mortgage case

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

U.S. PIRG Applauds CFPB Proposal To Regulate Biggest Credit Bureaus

“Last summer over 10,000 PIRG members submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) urging strict regulation of credit bureaus and credit scoring firms. We applaud the CFPB for its proposal today to subject the nation’s largest credit bureaus and credit scoring firms to full scrutiny as “larger participants” (CFPB pdf) in the financial marketplace."

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Corporate crime update: Phone companies stop cramming, but banks still run amok | Ed Mierzwinski

The industry trade paper American Banker is reporting  that "Bank of America Sold Card Debts to Collectors Despite Faulty Records" in 2009 and 2010. Good to know. It confirms previous consumer group studies that had documented that big banks were forcing consumers to arbitrate and pay "debts" that may not have been owed (some were due to identity theft or sloppy records). However, in the latest fallout from a U.S. Senate Commerce committee investigation of unauthorized third-party billing on phone bills (cramming), Chairman Jay Rockefeller has announced that ATT has joined other big telcos in finally promising to drop the tawdry practice of "cramming," which is a technical term meaning "making big bucks by allowing fly-by-night firms selling useless junky products consumers don't want and didn't buy to use phone bills as cash registers."

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

FTC: Credit Bureaus Pressure ID Theft Victims To Buy Overpriced, Underperforming Credit Monitoring Packages | Ed Mierzwinski

A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff report confirms what we've known all along: The big credit bureaus pressure identity theft victims into buying overpriced, underperforming credit monitoring subscription packages.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Consumer fraud summit today will be webcast | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATE: LINK TO C-SPAN WEBCAST ARCHIVE (My PANEL here and entire event here.)

In times of financial calamity, fraudsters come out to take your last dollar. This afternoon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will host a consumer financial fraud summit (agenda) at Georgetown Law School near Union Station bringing together enforcers from the DOJ, FTC, state agencies and consumer groups. I'll be on a panel discussing business opportunity frauds. Other panels will be on elder fraud and tax scams. The event is free and open to the public and will be webcast.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Today, CFPB to announce overdraft fee investigation, unveil "penalty box" disclosure, possibly end $39 lattes. | Ed Mierzwinski

At a news conference in NYC today, Director Richard Cordray of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will announce a major investigation of bank overdraft fee practices and propose a model "penalty box" disclosure to appear on bank statements. The investigation could end the $39 latte-- $4 bucks for the coffee, $35 for the debit card overdraft fee.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Tell the Financial Regulators: Don’t Let Big Banks Make Taxpayer-Backed Bets | Ed Mierzwinski

Last night, U.S. PIRG and the AFL-CIO joined Americans for Financial Reform in a detailed comment letter urging issuance of a strong Volcker rule. It's a 72-page pdf comment letter that basically comes down to this: We tell the financial regulators: don’t let big banks make taxpayer-backed bets.

> Keep Reading

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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.

Blog Post

We've joined leading consumer, civil rights, labor and older American organizations in a comment letter urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to strengthen its proposed "Regulation Best Interest" intended to ensure that all broker-dealers and other individuals and firms offering investment advice act do so in a fiduciary capacity, or in the best interest of their investor-clients. (Right now, it doesn't).

Blog Post

We joined leading consumer organizations to criticize the national bank regulator OCC's new proposal to charter non-bank fintech companies. We called it both illegal and a gateway for online predatory lenders to enter states where high-cost payday lending is banned. Leading state bank regulatory officials also opposed the OCC move, which is also one of the recommendations in a controversial Treasury Department report released the same day.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Report: Our latest report based on the CFPB's public Consumer Complaint database reviews the most-complained about debt collectors. Funny, a new CFPB complaint "snapshot" does not. The report comes as the CFPB's acting director threatens to make the database non-public. If the CFPB both shuts down the public database and continues to issue industry-friendly reports that don’t give out any real information, the public and marketplace harm is even greater.

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