Watch "Looking Inside The Black Box Society"

Digital Data and Consumer Protection: Ensuring a Fair and Equitable Financial Marketplace. Author and Professor Frank Pasquale discusses his new book “The Black Box Society,” on the growing use of secret algorithms to categorize consumers. A Project of US PIRG Education Fund & Center for Digital Democracy

Part 1: Keynote by Professor Frank Pasquale, author of “The Black Box Society” (Harvard University Press 2015) (link is external) Part 2 (Panel 1): Advocates Sarah Ludwig, (New Economy Project-NYC) and Alexis Goldstein ( (link is external)) w/ Frank Pasquale and Ed Mierzwinski, USPIRG Education Fund (link is external) Part 3 (Panel 2) : Regulators Jessica Rich (FTC) and Peggy Twohig (CFPB) w/ Frank Pasquale and Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy (link is external)

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 (link is external) and the Center for Digital Democracy 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 (link is external), Suffolk University Law Review, (December 2013)

Available Video and Webinar Presentations:

Video archive (link is external) of the “Data, Lending, and Civil Rights” conference at Georgetown University, 8 April 2015, (agenda and information (link is external)) 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 2h 45m and Ed’s main remarks at approximately 3h 2m 30sec.)

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.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (link is external)