On October 6, the FCC issued a fact sheet on revised privacy rules related to broadband internet services. According to the fact sheet, the proposed rules “are designed to evolve with changing technologies and encourage innovation, and are in harmony with other key privacy frameworks and principles – including those outlined by the [FTC] and the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.” The FCC first issued a set of privacy rules concerning consumer rights in relation to broadband internet service providers (ISPs) in March. In Chairman Tom Wheeler’s October 6 blog post regarding the recent revisions, he noted that the revised proposal “provide[s] consumers increased choice, transparency and security online.” The proposed rules, among other things, would require ISPs to (i) let consumers know the type of information they are collecting, specify how and the extent to which the information can be used and shared, and identify with whom the information is shared; (ii) obtain consumers’ opt-in consent to use sensitive information, including, among other things, geo-location, social security numbers, and web browsing history; and (iii) provide an opt-out option, consistent with customer expectations, for the use and sharing of non-sensitive information. Notably, the proposed rules “do not apply to the privacy practices of websites or apps, over which the [FTC] has authority…even when a website or app is owned by a broadband provider.” The Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal on October 27.
On October 17, the FTC released the agenda for its upcoming FinTech forum, which is the second in an ongoing event series. The FTC’s half day event will take place on October 26 in Washington, DC from 1:00 to 4:30 pm. The event will consist of panel discussions relating to (i) peer-to-peer payment systems, which allow consumers to exchange money electronically; and (ii) crowdfunding, which is the use of online platforms to fund a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people.
On October 4, the FTC announced a $1.3 billion judgment against defendants responsible for operating an allegedly deceptive payday lending scheme. The judgment is the result of 2012 complaint in which the FTC alleged that the defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act by making false and misleading representations about costs and payment of the loans. According to the FTC, the defendants claimed that they would charge consumers the loan amount and a one-time finance fee. However, the court found that the defendants “made multiple withdrawals from consumers’ bank accounts and assessed a new finance fee each time, without disclosing the true costs of the loan.” The $1.3 billion order is the largest litigated judgment the FTC has obtained to date.
On September 21, the DOJ and FTC entered into an agreement with the former vice president of a Texas-based debt collection company, to resolve allegations that that he violated Section 5 of the FTC Act and Section 807 of the FDCPA. The stipulated order enters a civil penalty of $496,000, but suspends the majority of the judgment based on certain conditions, including cooperation in the ongoing lawsuit against his former company.
On September 15, the FTC issued a paper summarizing the insights garnered through its October 2015 “Follow the Lead” workshop on lead generation. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the workshop focused on lead generation issues in the mortgage and education lending space. The FTC paper “detail[s] the mechanics of online lead generation and potential benefits and concerns associated with lead generation for both businesses and consumers.” The paper provides a synopsis of payday lenders’ role in the lead generation industry by describing their use of the “ping tree,” an automated process that enables aggregators to sell consumers’ personal information to lenders or other aggregators. Although the paper acknowledges that lead generators provide potential benefits to consumer, including the ability to offer competitive prices in the mortgage lending space, it never-the-less identifies the following key areas of concern: (i) complexity and lack of transparency surrounding industry policies and processes; (ii) the use of potentially aggressive or deceptive marketing techniques; and (iii) the potential misuse and mishandling of consumers’ personal information in the payday lending space.